In 1999, Officer Dave Brown (Woody Harrelson), a 24-year veteran of the Los Angeles Police Department, tends to follow his own code of rough justice. A number of years earlier, he was implicated in the death of a serial rapist. Brown's violent tendencies once again land him in hot water when a video of him beating up a suspect plays all over local TV. An assistant DA (Sigourney Weaver) pressures him to retire, but Brown edges closer and closer to a meltdown.

Dave Brown (Harrelson), a 24-year veteran of the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD), patrols the Rampart Division. While training a new officer, he roughs up a suspect to find the location of a meth lab. After work, he goes home to his two daughters and two ex-wives, who are also sisters (Heche and Nixon). After dinner, he goes to a piano bar where he picks up a stranger and has a one night stand.

The next day, Brown is t-boned in his patrol car. When the other driver attempts to flee, Brown brutally beats him, and the assault is captured on video by a bystander. The video creates another controversy for the LAPD, which is already besieged by the recent Rampart scandal. The Assistant District Attorney (Weaver) urges Brown to simply retire. He refuses and outlines his defense. Over the course of the film, it is revealed that although Brown failed the bar exam, he remains extremely knowledgeable about case law.

Back at the piano bar, Brown picks up a lawyer named Linda (Wright), after first determining that she is not surveilling him. Later he meets with ex-cop Hartshorn (Beatty), who suggests that Brown was set up to distract from the scandal. As the LAPD exerts more pressure on Brown, he retains legal counsel. Soon after, his ex-wives ask him to leave their houses so that they can sell them. Brown meets Hartshorn again and mentions his need for cash. Hartshorn tips him off to a high stakes card game happening later that night at the Crystal Market.

While Brown surveils the card game, it is knocked off by two armed men. Brown pursues the gunmen, killing one of them and letting the other go. He then stages the scene to make it look like he was shot at. Brown realizes that a homeless man nicknamed “General” (Foster) witnessed the whole thing from his wheelchair. As another investigation into Brown heats up, he goes to a hotel and blackmails the concierge into giving him a room. Next, he blackmails a pharmacist into giving him an assortment of drugs.

When Brown next meets Hartshorn to give him a cut of the money from the card game, he asks for the source of Hartshorn’s tip about the game. He suspects that he was set up again. Hartshorn refuses to name his source. Brown then meets with General in a parking lot to make sure that he will not testify about witnessing the shooting. The next day, an investigator with the District Attorney, Kyle Timkins (Cube) surveils Brown, who confronts him. Brown insists that he is not a racist, merely a misanthrope.

Brown grows increasingly paranoid and reliant on drugs as the pressure on him mounts. He pulls a gun on Hartshorn and accuses him of setting him up. The elderly man scuffles with Brown until he has a heart attack. Instead of calling an ambulance, Brown leaves him to die. Back at the hotel, Brown’s two daughters drop off some dry cleaning at his room, and he confesses to his younger daughter that everything she has heard about him is true.

Brown summons Timkins to a meeting and tapes a confession in front of him. He admits that he has been a dirty cop, and that in 1987, he killed a business acquaintance. He justified the murder because he knew the man was a serial rapist, which is why he got away with the extrajudicial killing. Timkins refuses the confession, insisting that he will arrest Brown for his most recent murder. The film ends with Brown revisiting his family and staring at his elder daughter on the front porch before disappearing into the night.

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