Russell Baze (Christian Bale) tries to be a descent guy in a dull small town. Also he tried to keep his trouble brother Rodney (Casey Affleck) in line, but when Russell ends up in prison over a case of bad luck, Rodney manages to work himself in deep trouble. With the help of small crook John Petty (Willem Dafoe), Rodney ends up in circles he had better kept far away from.
The film is presented as a thriller, but the first three quarters it is mostly a drama. Yet, from the beginning it is clear that the storyline about Harlan DeGroat (a great part of Woody Harrelson) is going to bring the promised tension. And sure it does!