Ex-convicts Emil Slovak (Karel Roden) and Oleg Razgul (Oleg Taktarov) arrive in the United States to claim their part of a bank heist in eastern Europe. Oleg steals a video camera from an electronics store. At the rundown apartment of their old partner, they are denied their share of the spoils, so Emil fatally stabs the partner and his wife as Oleg tapes it with the camera. Czech immigrant Daphne Handlova (Vera Farmiga) witnesses the murders from the bathroom, then escapes before Emil and Oleg can kill her as well. To hide the crime, Emil burns down the apartment.
Jordy Warsaw (Edward Burns) is a New York City arson investigator assigned to the case. Also at the scene is Eddie Flemming (Robert De Niro), is a high-profile detective who is followed by his girlfriend Nicolette Karas (Melina Kanakaredes), a reporter from the tabloid TV show Top Story. Flemming and Warsaw agree to work the case together. While checking out the crowd, Warsaw spots Daphne trying to get his attention, but she disappears. Meanwhile, Emil calls an escort service and asks for a “Czech girl.” Oleg tapes Emil as he kills the escort (Noelle Evans) and learns the address of the escort service. Oleg continually films everything, claiming he wants to be the next Frank Capra.
Flemming and Warsaw investigate this murder and visit the escort service. The madam, Rose Hearn (Charlize Theron), tells them that the girl Warsaw described doesn’t work for her but rather a hairdresser. She mentions a couple of other guys having just asked her the same questions. Flemming and Warsaw arrive at the hair salon just after Emil and Oleg have warned Daphne to keep quiet. Flemming notices Oleg filming them from across the street. In the ensuing foot chase, Flemming’s regular partner Leon Jackson (Avery Brooks) is hit with a glass bottle and his wallet and gun are stolen. Emil finds a card with Flemming’s name and address. He becomes jealous of Flemming’s celebrity status and is convinced that anyone in America can get away with anything.
On the night Flemming plans to propose to his girlfriend Nicolette Karas (Melina Kanakaredes), Oleg and Emil sneak into his house and bind Flemming to a chair. While Oleg is recording, Emil explains that he plans to kill Flemming and sell the tape to Top Story. After getting himself committed to an insane asylum, Emil will declare that he is actually sane. Since he can’t be tried again, he will get off, collecting royalties from books and movies based on his crimes. Flemming attacks them with his chair (while still taped to it), but Emil gets the upper-hand and stabs him in the chest, mortally wounding him. Emil then suffocates and kills Flemming with a pillow.
The entire city is in mourning. Emil sells the tape of Flemming’s murder to Top Story anchor Robert Hawkins (Kelsey Grammer) in exchange for $1 million, outraging Warsaw and the entire police force. Emil and Oleg watch the tape’s broadcast on Top Story inside a Planet Hollywood; customers realize that Emil and Oleg are sitting with them and panic. Police arrive and arrest Emil, while Oleg escapes. Warsaw takes Emil to an abandoned warehouse to kill him, but other police arrive just in time and take Emil into custody. Everything goes as planned for Emil, now a celebrity who is pleading insanity. His lawyer agrees to work for 30% of the royalties Emil will receive for his story. Meanwhile, in hiding, Oleg becomes jealous of the notoriety that Emil is receiving.
While the lawyer is leading Emil away in court, Warsaw provokes an argument, with the Top Story crew recording the whole thing. Oleg quietly approaches Hawkins and hands him the tape of Emil explaining his plan to Flemming, proving he was sane the whole time. Hawkins shouts out to Emil about the evidence in his possession. Emil grabs a policeman’s gun, shoots Oleg and grabs Nicolette, threatening to shoot her. Against orders, Warsaw shoots Emil a dozen times in the chest to avenge Flemming’s murder. Hawkins rushes to Oleg’s side as he dies. He attempts to get a comment from Warsaw, who punches him and walks away as the police all smile with approval.