It all starts out simply enough: four people dressed in painters’ outfits march into the busy lobby of Manhattan Trust, a cornerstone Wall Street branch of a worldwide financial institution. Within seconds, the costumed robbers place the bank under a surgically planned siege, and the 50 patrons and staff become unwitting pawns in an airtight heist.
NYPD hostage negotiators Detectives Keith Frazier (Denzel Washington) and Bill Mitchell (Chiwetel Ejiofor) are dispatched to the scene with orders to establish contact with the heist’s ringleader, Dalton Russell (Clive Owen), and ensure safe release of the hostages.
But things don’t progress as planned. Russell proves an unexpectedly canny opponent—clever, calm and totally in command—a puppet master with a meticulous plan to disorient and confuse not only the hostages, but also the authorities. Outside, the crowd of New Yorkers grows as the situation becomes increasingly tense.
The robbers appear to consistently be one step ahead of the police, outwitting Frazier and Darius at every turn. Frazier’s suspicions that more is at work than anyone perceives are justified with the entry of Madeline White (Jodie Foster), a power player with shadowy objectives, who requests a private meeting with Russell.
But just what are the robbers after? Why has nothing worked to alleviate the standoff, which stretches on hour after hour? Frazier is convinced that invisible strings are being pulled and secret negotiations are taking place as the powder keg situation grows more unstable by the moment. With loyalties and motives called into question, the detective engages in a risky game of cat-and-mouse—but with the rules of the game ever changing, one wrong move may take the volatile match closer to a disastrous and deadly conclusion.