Steve Everett (CLINT EASTWOOD) is an investigative reporter with a lot of problems. An alcoholic, he’s only been sober for two months. An unrelenting womanizer, he’s on the verge of being thrown out by his wife, Barbara (DIANE VENORA). Thanks to his messy personal life, he was fired from the New York Times. He has since relocated to the West Coast and The Oakland Tribune. If it wasn’t for his friend Alan Mann (JAMES WOODS), the Tribune’s editor-in-chief, he wouldn’t have a job at all.
The move to the West Coast and the last-chance job haven’t really influenced Everett’s style much, which is infuriating to the Tribune’s stiff-necked city editor, Bob Findley (DENIS LEARY). Furthermore, Everett’s unorthodox conduct has personal consequences for Findley. In fact, when Findley wants to send Everett on a particular assignment, the editor calls home and asks his own wife, who is in bed with Everett at the time, to please put Everett on the phone.
Findley has made the call because another reporter, covering the impending San Quentin execution of convicted murderer Frank Beachum (ISAIAH WASHINGTON), has been killed in an automobile accident. The final interview with the condemned man has, therefore, been handed to Everett, who reluctantly begins to do a little research on the case, anticipating a routine story.
Despite the reoccurring complications in his own life, from the jalopy he drives to his collapsing marriage, Steve Everett is an excellent reporter. His background check on Frank Beachum, connected to the details of the robbery and homicide that took place in an Oakland convenience store, just doesn’t add up. When he meets with Beachum at the prison, Everett receives information that confirms his instincts. He quickly begins a manic search for information which will stay the condemned man’s execution.
Everett’s late arrival to the situation is an obvious disadvantage. Still, his relentless pursuit of the truth keeps him chasing leads while the clock continues to tick against Beachum, who sits on Death Row with the odds stacked against him and with only one hope of survival. Steve Everett, harried, hassled and trying not to self-destruct, has less than 12 hours to save the life of a man he knows is innocent.