A bizarre murder brings together three police officers and a career criminal in the corrupt city of Vinci, California.
Det. Ray Velcoro works for the city of Vinci, California and has been on a downward spiral for years. He's divorced, drinks too much and has a violent temper. He's also in the pocket of local gangster Frank Semyon who years before provided the identity of the man who raped Velcoro's wife. He does odd jobs for Semyon, such as beating up a reporter who recently wrote a series on organized crime. Velcoro latest case is to locate City Manager Ben Caspere who hasn't been seen for several days. Sheriff's Det. Ani Bezzerides is good at her job but is estranged from her sister Athena - who does live cam porn - and her father who is now a new age guru of sorts. California Highway Patrolman Paul Woodrugh learns that he's been put on administrative leave after a young woman falsely claims he solicited sex to let her go free. These three police officers come together late one night when a man is found sitting on a park bench, dead.
- Pink markers are on a field of wooden stakes.
Detective Ray Velcoro (Colin Farrell) drops his son Chad off at school, the boy, husky with red hair is nervous and leaves the car sadly. Ray will see him again in two weeks.
Velcoro is interviewed by his lawyer and the topic of his wife's rape and childbirth nine months later come up. He shows a digital recorder used to pass messages with his son. In a flashback he visits Frank Semyon (Vince Vaughn) a seedy bar owner who knows the rapist. Semyon gives a photo and name of an amphetamine freak. He wants nothing in return, just to talk from time to time.
Present day, Semyon has coffee outside his nice house, dresses in a tailored cuff linked shirt. His wife Jordan (Kelly Reilly) wishes him well on his big day.
In industrial Vinci, California, Semyon watches his casino operations. His aide Blake shows a newspaper article on the corrupt city.
A man with a crow's mask on the seat beside and dark suglasses is driven away in a black limo, an old model Town Car.
Ani Bezzerides (Rachel McAdams) leaves a bedroom, her male friend Steve, apologizes for not being ready for some apparent kinky sex, She doesn't want a relationship and readies for work.
Leading a Ventura Sheriff's CID team, Ani raids a web cam sex show house. One of the girls is Athena, her sister, they go out back for a private talk. They each have sex and drug problems. Ani's partner Det. Ilinca says it is legit with a business license.
At Vinci City Hall Chief of Police Holloway and Lt. Burris discuss the news article with Velcoro. He is assigned to look for the missing city manager Ben Caspere.
CHP officer Paul Woodrugh (Taylor Kitsch) patrols the PCH on a motorbike. He stops an attractive blonde who doesn't have her license. She offers him a favor if he takes her home. Later, Woodrugh is being scolded by his Supervisor. The blonde is an actress and has accused him of asking for a blowjob. It is now an IA case and Woodrugh is placed on admin leave.
A posh cocktail party is in full swing. Semyon meets Mayor Austin Chessani (Richie Coster) and asks if Caspere has been found, missing for two days. The party is to announce a California Rail Corridor.
Velcoro and Det. Teague Dixon interview Caspere's admin assistant. She says he has been out of the office a lot recently. The two cops enter a house, with tossed furniture and odd art. Dixon is nervous, Velcoro is puzzled but thinks it is a '207' a kidnapping.
At the cocktail party a rich Russian, Osip Agronov (Tmothy V. Murphy), meets Frank and introduces his aide, a dark bearded man, Michael Bulgari.
The man in the limo slumps against the passenger window.
At a farm Ani and Det Elvis Ilinca interview a woman with a missing sister. The farm has recently been foreclosed, but the sister Veira has been missing for a few weeks. The girl last worked at a religious institute.
Frank Semyon makes the presentation explaining there will lots of federal dollars coming with Proposition 1 and the high speed rail announcement.
Ani and Elvis visit the Institute. A long haired man gives a New Age lecture. Ani interviews the chambermaids, they say Veira left for the club circuit.
Velcoro waits in his car drinking a mickey of whisky. He puts on a balaclava and enters a walk up apartment, sounds of beating a person.
Ani speaks to the lecturer, it is her father Eliot (David Morse). They talk about the sister Athena, the father is nonplussed about the web porn. He refuses to impose his will on others, but gives Ani some oblique advice to reduce her apparent anger with men.
Velcoro goes to his son's school, he notices the boy's new shoes are missing. The stepfather tries to calm Ray down but the boy had been bullied. Chad names an Aspen Conroy as the other boy. A while later Velcoro apologizes into the digital recorder. The police dispatcher provides the Conroy address.
Back at the shop after their shift Ani dresses with hidden weapons.
Paul enters his apartment, a sexy gf Emily (Adrian Arjona) is in her underwear , he goes to the washroom for a shower first. He takes a large blue pill and waits on the toilet seat. 30 minutes later he comes to the bedroom, drops his towel as Emily starts oral sex. Paul is impassive.
Semyon and Osip discuss a possible business partnership. In a private talk Osip says he needs to do his due diligence and not to rush him. Osip is looking forward to meeting Caspere and smiles.
In a suburb Velcoro talks to a homeowner and then viciously beats the father in front of his son, threatening more harm if the boy ever bullies anyone again.
The dark limo stops at night, the sunglasses man is dragged out of the car.
After sex Paul is pensive, troubled by something in the past. He dresses to leave to help a friend with work. Emily is upset he doesn't stay. Paul does a high speed run at night on his own sport motorbike.
Velcoro is in a quiet bar with a mournful singer. Semyon is with him. The two men stare at each other balefully. Velcoro then gives Semyon a notebook and laptop, the newspaper writer's. He won't be writing anymore articles. Velcoro is drinking heavily as Semyon asks him about his son and the lawyer he arranged. Semyon mentions he is trying for a son also and will be using IVF. Blake arrives and tells Semyon they have to go to a meeting.
Ani plays poker and drinks beer at a suburban casino.
Woodrugh drives at 100mph in the dark, seemingly suicidal then stops as he comes to his senses. He sees a man with sunglasses sitting at a picnic table. He carefully opens the man's wallet, and calls 911.
At the bar Velcoro is wasted at closing time. Ani leaves the casino and takes a call. Velcoro also gets a call, Caspere has been found.
At the scene an ME says the dead man's eyes have been burnt out with acid. He has a severe pelvic wound. The cops assemble and introduce themselves. The three look at each other grimly.