Lt. Daniel Kaffee (Tom Cruise) is a military lawyer defending two U.S. Marines charged with killing a fellow Marine at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba. Although Kaffee is known for seeking plea bargains, a fellow lawyer, Lt. Cdr. JoAnne Galloway (Demi Moore), convinces him that the accused marines were most likely carrying out an order from a commanding officer. Kaffee takes a risk by calling Col. Nathan R. Jessep (Jack Nicholson) to the stand in an effort to uncover the conspiracy.
When a creepy older man named Leland Gaunt (Max von Sydow) moves to a small town in Maine and sets up an antique shop, bad things soon follow. Gaunt has the remarkable ability of selling people exactly what they want most, but his ideal purchases come at a price that involves more than just money. Through Gaunt’s manipulation, the citizens of the town gradually turn on one another, resulting in violence that Sheriff Alan Pangborn (Ed Harris) struggles to contain.
Hard-as-nails Lily Dillon (Anjelica Huston) works as a swindler for dangerous bookie Bobo (Pat Hingle), probably the only man she fears. Arriving in Los Angeles on “business,” Lily looks up her son, Roy (John Cusack), a small-time con artist content with paltry sleight-of-hand cheats. Roy’s girlfriend, Myra (Annette Bening), looks like an All-American type but is a grifter looking to pull off another big-time con. The convergence of the three hustlers inevitably means trouble for all of them.
In a seaside California town, best friends Mac (Mel Gibson) and Nick (Kurt Russell) are on opposite sides of the law. Mac is a former drug dealer trying to clean up his act, while Nick is a high-profile detective trying to take down a Mexican drug lord named Carlos (Raul Julia). Soon Nick’s loyalties are put to the test when he begins an affair with restaurateur Jo Ann (Michelle Pfeiffer) — a love interest of Mac’s — unwittingly leading his friend into a police-orchestrated trap.
Mentally disabled Karl Childers (Billy Bob Thornton) is released from the mental hospital where he has spent most of his life after murdering his mother and her lover. He soon forms a bond with Frank (Lucas Black), a boy whose father committed suicide. When Frank’s mother, Linda (Natalie Canerday), lets Karl stay at their house, her cruel boyfriend, Doyle (Dwight Yoakam), tries to get Karl removed. Determined to protect his friend, Karl devises a way to save Frank from years of Doyle’s abuse.
Chicago firefighting brothers Stephen (Kurt Russell) and Brian (William Baldwin) have been rivals since childhood. Brian, struggling to prove himself, transfers to the arson unit. There he aids Don (Robert De Niro) in his investigation into a spate of fires involving oxygen-induced infernos called backdrafts. But when a conspiracy implicating a crooked politician and an arsonist leads Brian back to Stephen, he is forced to overcome his brotherly competitiveness in order to crack the case.