Assistant D.A. Al Reilly (Tim Hutton), Detective Sam “Chappie” Chapman (Charles Dutton) and Detective Luis Valentin (Luis Guzman) gather enough evidence to put corrupt cop Mike Brennan (Nick Nolte) away. A warrant is put out for Brennan’s arrest. But Brennan comes to police headquarters, gun drawn, and comes after Reilly. He angrily rants that Reilly’s own father (a policeman that Reilly had idolized) was just as corrupt as Brennan, but that it’s all right for cops to be corrupt- all that matters is that cops stand together to fight against REAL criminals.
Chappie tries to reason with Brennan, but Brennan shoots Chappie, and is about to kill Reilly when Detective Zucker, whom everyone has always regarded as a wimp, shoots and kills Brennan.
Reilly knows that Brennan was following the orders of corrupt Chief of Detectives Kevin Quinn (Patrick O’Neal), the man who originally appointed Reilly to investigate the whole affair. Quinn is disappointed in Reilly. He had assumed that, as an Irish-American, Reilly would be loyal to him and make the entire matter go away. Quinn is unhappy that Reilly carried out a real investigation.
Quinn has long been planning to run for governor, and intends to make a formal announcement in a few days. Reilly warns Quinn not to run for office, since Quinn will surely be indicted for corruption soon. Quinn laughs and sings, “Que Sera, Sera.” He seems completely unafraid.
When Reilly confers with his veteran police friend Leo “Bloomy” Bloomenfeld, Bloomy tells Reilly that Quinn is safe and will never be indicted. Calmly but sadly, Bloomy explains that the New York Police Force always rallies around its own and protects corrupt cops. There are countless ways that evidence can be “lost” or “misplaced,” and potential witnesses can be paid off to forget about what they know. In any case, the “victims” are all Hispanic drug dealers and assorted low-lifes, so there wouldn’t be much public outrage. The police have covered up many scandals, Bloomy says, including many bigger scandals than this one. Worse yet, if Reilly pursues Quinn, the police department may reveal the corruption of Reilly’s father, and take away the pension Reilly’s mother receives. The only consolation Bloomy offers is his firm belief that Quinn has no hope of being elected to high office. “He’s a prick. People sense these things,” Bloomy tells Reilly.
Reilly is heartbroken and confused. He knows he has to take some kind of action against Quinn and police corruption in general, but can’t figure out what he should do. At last, he realizes that the fundamental problem is the way people form alliances along ethnic lines. Corrupt cops Quinn and Brennan thought that Reilly would side with them solely because he was Irish. They assumed he was a racist, just like them. And he realizes they weren’t completely wrong about that.
His first step in making amends is to find his old love Nancy (Jenny Lumet), the widow of drug kingpin Bobby Tex (Armand Assante). Nancy is a half-black woman that Reilly lost years ago because of his own racist feelings. He locates her on a beach, and tells her that he’s going to go after Quinn, but before that, he wants her back. He loves her, and wants to marry her. If she tells him to leave, he'll go away forever. If not, he'll wait by her side for as long as he has to.
The movie ends with Reilly sitting next to Nancy, who still has not given any answer.
Thanks John L!