We open up to Jason Collins (Rafi Gavron) video chatting with a friend of his. His friend, Craig, is talking about an shipment of Ecstasy that he needs to unload and how much it is worth. Craig wants to send it to Jason so he can temporarily hold onto it. Jason is wary, but Craig says he can have a few tablets of it and share with his girlfriend Amanda. Craig says he will send him the details as Jason's mother, Sylvie (Melina Kanakaredes) comes into the house. Jason quickly shuts the computer before she hears anything.
Across town, John Matthews (Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson) is working at his construction company talking to a man willing to sell a few big rig trucks. John owns the company and has many men working for him. John heads out to leave for the day (it is his daughter's birthday) when he sees a man still working. He drives over to him and says there is no overtime without special approval. The man, Daniel James (Jon Bentral) says that he knows, he just has a broken pallet and needs to get the supplies to a better spot before it rains. John gets out of the car to help him so that he can go home sooner. They introduce themselves to each other. Daniel tells John that he has been working for him for about three weeks and jokingly asks for a raise.
Jason is at home when the package arrives. He quickly opens it and looks at the bag of drugs in awe. He lifts it up to see a tracker and a DEA card at the bottom of the box. His face goes white. Craig set him up. He hears cops at his door and jumps out the window to escape. The agents chase him quite a ways before Jason gets surrounded and taken into custody by the lead agent in charge, Agent Cooper (Barry Pepper).
John is at his mansion home, for his daughter's party, when he gets a call from Sylvie, his ex-wife. Their son, Jason, has been arrested.
John heads to the precinct to find out what happened. Sylvie says they have wait to be called, as she sits outside and nervously smokes a cigarette. John and her exchange words, and it is clear their relationship is strained at best since he has remarried and moved away from them. John tells her he is getting Jason a lawyer. "Good," Sylvie says, "You can definitely afford it."
John and Sylvie meet with Jason's lawyer. John says Jason should be in prison for a few days to teach him a lesson, but the lawyer drops a bombshell; this is no ordinary drug case. Jason had enough in his possession for intent to distribute, which makes it a federal case. Federal cases have mandatory sentencing. The guidelines were designed so low level dealers could rat out higher ups for reduced jail time. Unfortunately, most of the time, most offenders don't have anyone good to "snitch" on and finger other people. People like Jason. As it were, Jason is looking at ten years in prison. The lawyer reveals Craig was arrested and when given a chance to reduce his sentence, sold out his innocent friend to the DEA. The only way Jason can reduce his own sentence is by giving up names.
John and Sylvie see Jason in handcuffs in the courtroom. Sylvie breaks down in tears.
Jason, Sylvie, John, and Jason's lawyer talk to Jason to see if he knows anyone. Jason doesn't know anyone of value, but John pushes him to name someone, anyone. Jason says he won't set up another person like he was. John tells him that he will, but Jason still refuses. The lawyer then says his unwillingness to cooperate will make the prosecutor up the sentence up to 30 YEARS. Jason is caught in a very bad position, and John doesn't know what he can do to save his son.
John goes back to work the next day, and sees they got the new trucks. He isn't enthused, with his mind obviously on other things. He calls a friend for a favor; a meeting with the federal prosecutor, Caroline Keeghan (Susan Sarandon).
John goes to see her. Keeghan notes she had four of his friends call her to accept a meeting with him. John tries to reason with her, saying Jason is a good kid. Keeghan says she can only help Jason if he helps makes arrests and since he can't there is nothing she can or will do as she believes in the mandatory sentencing. As she is about to usher him out, John asks if he could help in his son's stead. If he helps make arrests, she'll reduce Jason's sentence.
John goes to see Jason. His face is beaten up. John asks what happened. Jason denies anything did happen. Jason tells him that he was mad at his father when he and Sylvie got divorced and that he couldn't live with him. So to get back at him that he used to toilet paper his house. One time, he realized John was away on business, and his wife Analisa (Nadine Velazquez) had to clean it up alone. So he pretended to stop by and help her clean it up. Jason begins to cry and tell his dad that yes he wanted a few tablets of Ecstasy to try with his girlfriend, but that was it. He was not going to sell it, he's not a drug dealer. "You believe me right?" Jason asks. John says he does. John tells him that this is partly his fault, and he's sorry. He tells Jason he has to stop crying as he will have to be real tough in prison so he won't be a target. John tells his son he loves him, and Jason then has to go.
John spends the night looking up drug laws, and information about drug cartels.
John goes out in his truck with a hidden camera, looking for trouble. He drives up to a dealer and asks for cocaine. When the dealer asks for money, John shows it. The dealer and his buddies then pull John out of the car, beat him up and take his money. They almost steal his truck when the police show up and scare them off.
John is taken in for the night but is soon released.
John takes another meeting with Keeghan who is not happy with what he did. John asks her straight up what kind of bust he needs. She explains she needs a high up drug dealer willing to transport the equivalent of half a kilo of cocaine. John says he has ex-cons working the yard. Perhaps he will find one with a connection.
John looks at the applications for his men. He finds Daniel's name.
He finds Daniel at a bus stop, and tells him to get in. They go and get coffee, and Daniel at first believes that it is about his past convictions, but John assuages his fears. John then says he caught two of his men "transporting" things a year back, and he is looking to get into that market but needs an introduction. Daniel scoffs and says he is trying to stay on the straight and narrow for his family. John offers him ten thousand for an introduction, but Daniel will not have it. He has two strikes and this conversation could be construed as conspiracy which could send him to jail for 25 to life. Daniel leaves and John follows him, upping his offer to twenty thousand.
Daniel walks home to see his son being charmed by gang members. He sends his son home, but his son stands behind a corner and watches as his father beats up one of the gang members and puts his own gun in his face. Daniel tells the man that he can shoot people and do drugs, but he better stay away from his son or he will kill him. Daniel hands the gun off to another gang member and heads off with his son. The gang member chastises his friend for messing with Daniel as he is an ex-shot caller and he still carries respect in their world.
Daniel goes inside to see that his wife, Vanessa (Lela Loren) getting ready for work. Daniel balks at her doing another shift. Vanessa tells him someone cancelled, and her boss told her that she'd have to fill in. She doesn't want to go in, but if she wants to keep her job she has to. They kiss, and she leaves. Daniel talks to his son saying he shouldn't be around people like the gang members. His son counters he doesn't have anyone here to be friends with. Daniel tells him that he's sorry it is tough right now, but they will be able to move soon, and when they do he can make some real friends that won't ask him to do anything or prove his worth to them.
John is at work, frustrated. He opens his office door and sees Daniel there waiting. He's willing to help.
Daniel and John head into the city to meet with a contact of Daniel's. Daniel says he will go in first, to make the introduction. Daniel warns him that he better want this because one false move and John will be dead.
When Daniel leaves, John reaches for a recording device and turns it on.
Daniel goes inside and speaks with Malik (Michael Kenneth Williams). Malik knew Daniel from his prison days, and they apparently stayed on good terms. Daniel speaks of John's proposition, and Malik taking Daniel's word, nods to one of his men to get John.
John comes in and introduces himself. Malik pulls a gun on him, and John puts up his hands, scared. Malik said that was the reaction he was looking for. If he wasn't scared, Malik would start thinking he was a cop. Malik says they should have a real honest conversation why he is here. John says he doesn't have product or distribution but if anyone needed transportation he could provide that. Malik scoffs at his offer, but John says he works with semi rig trucks that are rarely checked by authorities. He tells Malik he works in construction and the market is going bad; he needs the money to keep his business afloat. Malik is convinced and tells John he will do a test run with them for 10% then they will talk particulars. He ushers John out and tells Daniel that he will be going with John. Daniel balks, saying he is out of the life. Malik tells him that he is back in; he vouched for John. If he doesn't go, Malik will think he is being set up.
Daniel tells John he will be joining him on the run. He also asks for the first half of his payment.
John takes another meeting with Keeghan, with Cooper present. They listen to the recording, and Keeghan is convinced of John's case and his willingness to help. She signs off on his operation, having Cooper as a witness to their deal. If he gets Malik and the drugs, she will reduce Jason's sentence to two years, one year suspended. Her reasoning being he still did something wrong; with time served already he could be out in six months. John sighs and agrees to the terms.
Keeghan leaves the room. John asks Cooper if he can trust her to keep her word. "Don't give her a reason not to," Cooper notes, obviously weary at putting a civilian into this type of danger.
John and Daniel say goodbye to their respective wives and kids who both believe they are going on a normal truck run.
Before he heads off on the drive that night, John asks Cooper for undercover advice. Cooper tells him to be himself and tell the truth; if he tries to lie they will know. He is doing the runs to save his business; that is the truth so stick with that story.
John and Daniel begin their drive to El Paso, Texas with Cooper's agents tailing them all the way, unknown to Daniel. John tries to make small talk, but Daniel doesn't want to talk about his family.
After a very long drive, they get to their destination, met by cartel soldiers. They ask how they will hide the drugs. Daniel says in bags of cement. They head into a building while a man in an SUV, Juan Carlos "El Topo" Pintera (Benjamin Bratt) watches from a distance. John and Daniel load the drugs in the bags and head out to leave when shots ring out. A rival cartel, Baja Norte has found them and tries to kill them all.
John and Daniel keep low and try to get the truck out of there. Meanwhile, the driver of El Topo wants to drive him to safety, but El Topo tells him no. El Topo reaches into the back of the car and pulls out a M60 and begins firing on the rival cartel believing he should fight along his men. He single handily kills several men of the Baja Norte cartel. John and Daniel get the truck moving and drive out of the scrap yard as the firefight continues. El Topo notices their cool under pressure as he continues to kill the Baja Norte men. The remaining men flee soon after.
El Topo calls Malik saying John worked very well and that they will use him again, implying he wants to expand their relationship. Malik is happy as it will get him more money.
John and Daniel, free of the shooting, lock the truck back up and drive back to the warehouse. Daniel gets a call saying the hand off location has been changed. John pretends to go to the bathroom and makes a call in his office to the DEA, so they know about the change. Daniel notices the office light and that the phone line is use, but John hangs up before he hears anything. When John comes back, Daniel puts a gun to his head and asks who he was calling. John says he was calling his wife, and he wanted her to see the company ID, so she knew that he was working hard to save the company. Daniel tells him that he better not be screwing him over, because if it becomes between him and John he will kill John, no hesitation.
Daniel and John head to the meet with Malik. Cooper and the other agents are waiting to witness the drop off. Malik shows up and makes John take drugs as a test. He then hands over ten thousand a kilo and takes the drugs. Just as Cooper and his men are going to bust Malik, Malik says that some higher ups want to meet John, and he will contact him soon. Cooper has to make a judgment call. He tells the other agents to let Malik go. Malik and his men leave, and John looks around waiting for the DEA to swoop in. Daniel asks what he is looking at, and John chalks it up to the drugs he took making him paranoid about Malik. They drive off.
John goes home and has a drink. Analisa comes down and asks to know what is going on. John admits his deal with the DEA, and Analisa is enraged he is putting his life in danger. John says he doesn't have a choice; his son is stuck. "Every move I make, or DON'T MAKE, Jason will have to live with for the next ten years of his life!" John screams. "But what if you don't make it!" Analisa replies.
John confronts Keeghan for reneging on their deal. Cooper intervenes and says he had to make a judgment call. Despite being lied to, John agrees to move forward with the next step.
John gets a call from Sylvie. Jason was assaulted in prison. Sylvie cries, feeling responsible for not watching over him more. John comforts her.
Daniel confronts John outside the station (he was following him). John admits the truth about his son and what he is doing. Daniel is very angry with him, thinking for one that he is being used as one of the targets, and that John had gotten him in bed with the cartel. Daniel tells him if anyone finds out he is an informant they are dead.
Daniel goes home and sees his wife found the money John gave him. She thinks he is getting in trouble again and yells at him saying she can't watch him go to prison again. Daniel holds her and tells her everything is fine, and it isn't what she thinks.
John goes home to see Malik's car. He freaks out and goes inside to see his scared wife. He tells her to leave quickly. He goes to talk to Malik. Malik comments on his wife and says it is time for that meeting with the higher up, El Topo. They head to the meet where John goes in alone and meets with El Topo. El Topo says if he works for them that he will be treated like family. and that includes his wife and daughter. John realizes that is a subtle threat and says thank you. El Topo tells him that he will do a trial run with them that will net him 250,000, and after that he has the opportunity to make even more money. He will do the run alone; Daniel is no longer in the picture. El Topo leaves and John asks another man about Malik's involvement. "You work for us now," the man says. Malik drives John home reminding him that he still works for him as no one is going to get between him and his money.
John calls his wife trying to explain she can't go to her sister because what the cartel knows. Analisa tells John she loves him and hangs up.
John has a meeting with Keeghan and Cooper, furious that the cartel knew so much about him. He asks about Jason, and Cooper says he has their files tagged so if anyone tries to see them, he'll know. Plus, Jason is under his mother's name so they won't know to look for him. John is asked about the man he met, and mentions his name as "El Topo." Both Keeghan and Cooper perk up realizing he is a high value target. Cooper tells John El Topo is ex-paramilitary and now helps run the Nuevo cartel. John explains how the run is supposed to work, and Keeghan realizes he will be transporting the cartel's drug money. Cooper asks for a minute alone with Keeghan. He voices his concerns, knowing the second John crosses over to Mexico as part of the run, the cartel will kill him. Keeghan is willing to risk it, as she wants the head of a major cartel.
Keeghan brings John back in and gives him the ultimate deal; she will immediately release Jason. However, he has to bring her the arrest of El Topo and the cartel's drug money. John agrees.
Cooper talks to John and tells him the cartel doesn't let their own men do money runs and the like. They recruit from the outside, making it seem cool at first. Then they threaten the people's families to do more, until they eventually become a liability and they're killed and dissolved in acid as there will always be another person looking for easy money. Cooper warns him that he is taking a very big risk with this run.
John sees his son again. He tells Jason that he is proud of him and that he is actually teaching him a lesson in character and integrity for standing by his convictions and not snitching on anyone, even to save himself. John tells him that he loves him.
John goes to see Daniel. Daniel voices his main concern about what has to be done; sure they will make good with the feds but when everyone finds out they are informants they will go after their families. John tells Daniel he is sorry for getting him in this mess with him and he will have to live with that. However, "There is no way I'll let either side decide our fates," John tells him.
We see John look at a row of guns.
John gets the address of the pickup and tells them that it will take 90 minutes in the semi. He drives with the DEA tracking him via GPS.
John heads to an underpass and leaves his truck running before taking another similar one. The DEA eventually realize they were duped by him.
John calls Daniel and tells him that he "needs that number" to make his plan work. We see Daniel is outside Malik's house.
John arrives in El Paso to collect the money. They make it clear he is responsible for every dollar and he better not skim. He begins to drive with a convoy of cartel members in cars following him.
A female police officer speaks to a cartel member about John seeing his son. She is the same woman that John signed in with every time. She has sold him out to El Topo.
El Topo gets a call at his home.
Daniel breaks into Malik's house and kills a few of his men. Malik comes out with a weapon drawn. Daniel rushes into the hallway and shoots at him. Malik clips Daniel in the shoulder while he gets shot in the chest. Malik says that is the shot caller he remembers. Daniel tells him that he needs El Topo's number. Malik gives it to him. Daniel asks if he wants him to call 911. Malik says they are already on their way.
Daniel texts John the number.
John gets a call from Cooper saying he shouldn't had made his own plan. John counters that they kept changing their deal, so he had to take some insurance to make sure they wouldn't back out. Besides, he wants to keep El Topo and the money on U.S. soil.
The cartel members get a call from El Topo to take John out. John realizes they know about Jason and tells Cooper to move him immediately. Cooper says they have it handled. John gives him El Topo's number to track.
The cartel members begin to attack the truck so John fights back, ramming into them, and shooting at them with a shotgun (another reason he switched trucks). He gets shot in the leg but is able to take out several cars and killing several of the men.
Cooper and other DEA agents go to the house where El Topo was to find it empty and his phone on the counter. Cooper and an agent are driving by when they see him literally driving by them. They quickly turn around and surround him. His men raise weapons, but El Topo tells them to put them down and put their hands up. His young son is with them, and he knows a potential gunfight could kill the child. He may not want to go to prison, but he knows it is not worth his son's life.
The Cartel men then decide to forget the money and shoot out the tires to kill John. John eventually fish tails the truck and the truck cab flips over, nearly killing him. He survives with one cartel man nearby. He sees a man running towards him as he reaches for his shotgun. He is about to shoot when he realizes the man is DEA. The lone surviving cartel man drives away unable to do anything.
The police raid Malik's home to find him dead. Daniel happily reunites with his family.
Keeghan has a press conference announcing the arrest of El Topo and several of his men, along with millions in drug money. Keeghan congratulates John and says she's sorry she can't mention his involvement. He doesn't care; he just wants his son back. Keeghan keeps her word, saying Jason will be released the next morning. Keeghan asks if his family is ready to live in witness protection. John admits he hasn't told them yet.
Daniel takes a meeting with Cooper, and is wary thinking he might be roped into the sting. Cooper assuages his fears and tells him John vouched for him. Cooper asks if he is sure about turning down witness protection. Daniel replies he and his family have their own plan to disappear. Cooper hands him a check for 100K; the reward money for the arrest for El Topo. Daniel says that is John's money, but Cooper had orders from John himself to give it to Daniel. John obviously felt guilt for lying to Daniel and endangering his freedom, so he wanted him to have it. Besides, he knows Daniel will need it to get a fresh start with his family.
John, Sylvie, and Analisa wait outside the jail for Jason's release. His parents happily embrace him, and John tells him "Let's go home." They drive off, apparently all of them starting over in witness protection.
The film ends with a title card saying that mandatory drug sentences are on average now much longer than many other crimes that could be considered much more serious including Rape and Manslaughter.
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