In 1997, Luke Glanton is a traveling motorcycle stuntman with a carnival. In Schenectady, New York, Luke reunites with his one-time, ex-lover Romina Gutierrez, who is now dating another man named Kofi Kancam. Luke discovers that Romina has a baby named Jason whom he accidentally fathered the previous year, but Romina never revealed to him. Luke quits the carnival tour to stay in Schenectady with Romina and their son.
Luke begins working part-time for auto mechanic Robin Van Der Hook. He asks Robin for more work, and Robin, who can’t offer it legitimately, reveals his past as a successful bank robber, and offers to partner with Luke for a few robberies. Skeptical at first, Luke decides to take Robin up on his offer. They successfully pull off a few heists, where Luke robs the bank at gunpoint, uses his speedy bike as a getaway vehicle, and quickly rides it into a box truck, inconspicuously driven by Robin, away from any police pursuit.
Luke uses his share of the stolen money to get closer to Romina, visiting and providing for her and Jason more often. He takes them out for ice cream, and asks an employee to take a photo to capture the moment. Later, Luke lets himself into Romina and Kofi’s house, attempts to assemble a crib for Jason, gets into an altercation with Kofi, and is arrested for striking Kofi with a wrench. When Robin bails him out of jail, Luke states that he wants to give his money to Romina for Jason when he’s older. Desperate and angry, Luke insists on resuming their robberies, but Robin objects. The two have a falling out, and Robin dismantles Luke’s motorcycle. Luke then robs Robin, and uses the money to buy a new bike.
Luke attempts to rob a bank alone, but fails to properly plan for the job, has issues with his defective bike, and is pursued by police. He is cornered in the top floor of a house by rookie police officer Avery Cross. Luke calls Romina, and asks her not to tell Jason about him. A frightened Avery quickly enters the room, and impulsively shoots Luke in the stomach. Luke fires back, hitting Avery in the leg, but falls three stories out of the window to his death.
Avery, a married man with a wife and baby son, is hailed as a hero after foiling Luke, but feels remorse about the shooting, leading him to tell amenable police investigators that Luke shot first. A group of veteran, corrupt officers coerce Avery to join them in illegally seizing the stolen bank money from Romina’s home. Later, Avery tries to return it to Romina, who rejects it. Avery then attempts to turn the money over to the similarly corrupt chief of police, who rebuffs him. Discouraged, desperate, and fearful of lethal retaliation from the corrupt police department, Avery discreetly records other illegal practices in the police department, and uses this recording as leverage with the District Attorney to obtain a coveted position as an assistant district attorney since he has a law degree.
Fifteen years later, Avery is running for Attorney General of New York. His son A.J. is a now a troubled teenager with a tough-guy persona and a penchant for drug use, who has been living with Avery’s ex-wife. A.J. moves in with his father, and transfers to Schenectady High School. There, A.J. befriends (the now teenage) Jason, but neither know the history between their fathers. The two are later arrested for felony drug possession, but when Avery is called in to pick up his son from the police station, he recognizes Jason’s name. He gets Jason’s charge dropped to a misdemeanor and orders A.J. to stay away from him.
Kofi finally tells Jason his father’s name, allowing Jason to discover Luke’s past on the Internet. Jason visits Robin, who tells him more about Luke, and their robberies. Back in school, A.J. pressures Jason to steal Oxycontin for a party, which Jason does, narrowly escaping the pharmacy owner on his bicycle.
At A.J.’s party, Jason eventually realizes that A.J.’s father, Avery, is the man who killed his father, Luke. After a fist-fight with A.J., which leaves Jason hospitalized, Jason buys a gun, breaks into the Cross family home, beats A.J., and takes Avery hostage. Jason forces Avery to drive into the woods, where Avery breaks down and tearfully apologizes for killing Jason’s father. Instead of killing Avery, Jason steals his wallet, and leaves him unharmed. In the wallet, Jason finds the photo of him and his parents from the ice cream shop, which Avery had stolen from the evidence locker.
Some time later, Avery wins his bid for New York Attorney General, with A.J. at his side. Romina receives an envelope addressed to “Mom”, with the old photograph inside. Jason purchases a motorcycle, starts the bike, and rides away from his old life.