Point of No Return opens to a panoramic view of Washington D.C., fading quikly to the dilapidated, seedy back alleys where homeless people and drug-addicted gangs dwell. One such gang heads through the streets to arrive at a drug store closed for the night. When one of the gang is too slow opening the lock with a key, the gang's leader, Big Stan (Michael Rapaport
) smashes the lock off with an axe. A young woman in the gang, Maggie Hayward (Bridget Fonda
), is going through drug withdrawal and complains of desperately needing a new fix.
Upstairs from the store, the owner (Geoffrey Lewis
) and his wife have been awakened by the looting of the store. Despite his wife's pleas as she reports the robbery to the police, the drugstore owner loads a shotgun and prepares to confront the burglars.
Johnny, one of the gang members, apparently knows the layout of the store and where the drugs are kept, but cannot find what they are looking for as quickly as Stan wants. Meanwhile, Maggie, in pain from her withdrawal, slowly sags and slumps into a sitting position on the floor, leaning against a display.
The drugstore owner confronts the thieves, who reveal their trump card on why they feel he cannot open fire on them-- Johnny is his son. The drugstore owner stares in disbelief at seeing his son among the gang.
The police arrive and a shootout erupts. Stan kills both the store owner and Johnny is shot by the police. A police sniper kills Stan and the other gang member. oNe of the gang pistols lands near Magie who picks it up. The police enter the store and one of the officers finds Maggie, still slumped against the display. She is apparently deep in a drug withdrawal-induced psychosis. He removes her headphones, through which she'd been listening to music. Maggie suddenly jams the barrel of the gun under his jaw and pulls the trigger, killing him.
Maggie is being hauled out of a holding cell in the police station. Although she is handcuffed, she is resistant and rebellious against the police's attempts. They wrestle her into a chair and the detective in charge vicously backhands her when she refuses to give him her real name. He demands she sign a document, and she asks for and gets a pencil and stabs him through the back of his hand with it. As police drag her away, a man watches from the mezzanine.
Maggie is convicted of capital murder for killing the officer, and the judge sentences her to death by lethal injection. Maggie goes berserk and attempts to escape; she tries to break a window. It takes multiple officers to successfully restrain her and carry her away. The same man who was in the station, is again watching from the courtroom seats.
As Maggie is strapped to the gurney for her execution, she tearfully begs they wait for her mother to arrive. The needle is inserted into a vein in her arm and drugs injected. Maggie loses control of her bladder as the chemicals take effect and her eyes sag closed. From the observation window, yet again, the same mysterious man is watching.
Maggie awakes in a bed, covered to her neck in a sheet and her eyes open and she sees she is in a plain, unfurnished, white-painted room. A peephole in the door opens, and the mysterious man, Bob (Gabriel Byrne
), comes in to greet her.
Bob shows her pictures of her funeral, including a photograph that shows her father was present. Maggie asks if her mom showed up but the answer is no. To the rest of the world, Maggie is dead, and she is buried at Oakmont Cemetery-- "Row 48, Plot 12".
Bob makes no attempt to stop Maggie as she runs for the door; he knows it is locked and she can't get out. He tells her he works for a clandestine branch of the U.S. federal government, which is giving her a second chance. Maggie is naturally very suspicious about what Bob and his superiors want from her in exchange from her life. He coldly tells her that for a start, she needs to learn such basics as standing up straight and speaking properly, before she would be instructed in languages and computers-- things that would enable her to do some good for the country. When Maggie asks what would happen if she said no, Bob reminds her, rather matter-of-factly, the location of her grave-- they can easily put her into it for real this time. He gives her an hour to think the offer over.
Bob returns to Maggie's room to get her decision. Looking through the peephold, he sees Maggie back in her bed. But when he enters the room, he is hit by a chair to the back. Maggie has dressed in the clothing placed in her room and was hiding behind the door. She jams a knee down onto him and grabs his gun, using him as a hostage to get out of wherever she is. She makes her way toward the main exit; Bob telling all the employees in the compound to return to their desks and make no threatening moves. Several armed guards converge, but Bob tells them to keep their weapons lowered. As they reach the door, Maggie demands that Bob open it, but Bob says it is controlled remotely, and the people with the power to unlock it will not do so, even at the expense of his life.
A security rifle is lazing her up for a precision shot through her forehead. Bob calmly asks Maggie for his gun back. Maggie seems about to comply when she suddenly pushes the barrel into her mouth and pulls the trigger. But the gun doesn't fire. Bob grabs the gun and knocks her down, telling her that a smart agent never chambers the first round. Pulling the slide to chamber the round as he says this, Bob shoots her in the thigh to slow her down
Bob goes to see Maggie later in her room. Her leg has been bandaged and she's been given more time to think, but now Bob wants an answer. At first, Maggie is still resentful and rebellious, but her survival instincts take over and she submits. She wants some things, however, to make her life in the compound easier-- among them, some music from her favorite artist, Nina Simone. Bob agrees to have it brought to her.
Maggie begins undergoing the lessons; she is shown how to operate a computer, trained in combat, and the most challenging of her lessons: social manners and etiquette, and posture and grace of movement, and proper use of language and grammar, all under the stern but caring eye of one of the instructors, Amanda (Anne Bancroft
Bob goes to see Maggie at her room. Her reports are coming along excellent, and she is doing well in her lessons. But with all her progress, Maggie is going stir-crazy confined inside the compound, and asks desperately to take just a short walk outside. Bob reveals that he also was once in her place as a recruit, and was going through the same things that she is now. But he can't let her outside. Maggie starts to become rebellious again and during a firearm exercise indiscriminately shoots all the targets for fun; both 'bad guys' and 'innocents.' At a dinner lesson, she becomes frustrated with the use of a knife and fork and finally starts to eat using her hands.
Bob and his supervisor, Kaufman (Miguel Ferrer
) notice, and are talking about her in Kaufman's office. Bob insists he can bring Maggie back around, reminding Kaufman that a young woman operative is needed 'out in the field.' He says recruits need up to two years to complete their lessons and training, but Kaufman tells Bob that Maggie is only getting six months; after that, if there is no sign of visible improvement, she will be killed.
Bob brings Maggie a birthday cake for her birthday. She is very pleased with the cake, but then Bob tells her the ultimatum issued by Kaufman. Bob lightly kisses her cheek as a happy-birthday wish, before leaving her room. Later, Amanda finds Maggie sitting at the foot of the stairs and Maggie pleads to Amanda for help.
Under Amanda's tutelage, Maggie quickly masters her lessons. She comes down the stairs, elegantly attired in a black evening dress, black stockings and pumps, her hair styled; her face properly made up... she looks stately and beautiful. Maggie is to be taken to dinner by Bob, just the two of them... outside of the compound. Bob helps her into a light coat and takes her outside where a limousine is waiting.
Bob and Maggie are seated at a table in an elegant restaurant. Bob hands Maggie a gift-wrapped package that she opens to display an elegant wooden box. Inside is a high-powered, sleek handgun and a spare clip of ammunition. She listens numbly as Bob discreetly points out two men seated together with a woman at the upper level of the restaurant; one of the men is a V.I.P. and the other man is his bodyguard. Maggie is to kill the VIP; two bullets minimum and go to the last stall of the men's room where a window leads to the courtyard, where a car will be waiting.
Maggie kicks her shoes off, slips the spare clip into her her cleavage. She takes the gun andslips up the stairs. She reaches the VIP's table and the bodyguard promptly reacts, but Maggie is faster and quickly puts a bullet in his chest; then takes out the VIP, one bullet in the head and one in the chest. Taking advantage of the sudden chaos, Maggie evades several armed security guards and makes it to the men's room... but she finds that the escape window Bob told her about is bricked up and she cannot get out.
Maggie doubles back and makes it into the restaurant's kitchen, pursued by armed men who indiscriminately begin shooting, killing the kitchen staff. They have Maggie pinned down, but her return fire kills several and keeps them at bay. One of the men loads a portable rocket into his rifle. Desperate now, Maggie spots a laundry chute and dives into it just ahead of the rocket and explosion. Escaping from the restaurant, Maggie runs out into the rainy nights and flings her gun into the Tidal Basin.
Back at the compound, Maggie finds Bob waiting for her in her room. Confronted on the bricked-up window, Bob says he knew about it-- it was her 'final test.' Maggie becomes furious and backhands Bob off his chair, grabbing him by his shirt collar. Bob tells her that by passing this final test, Maggie has won her freedom; she will be released from the compound the next day. Calming downMaggie gives Bob a sharp, semi-passionate kiss and says it's the last one she'll give him.
Maggie is being prepared for release. Bob tells Kaufman she's ready to be a field operative; Kaufman sternly warns Maggie that he considers her a dangerous loose cannon.
Maggie is smartly dressed in a sharp skirt suit, looking to be a professional business woman. Bob explains her cover identity, saying her public name will be Claudia Doran, and she's a Chicago native. She'll be living in Venice, California, working as a computer sales official, therefore having to travel a lot. He gives her all her necessary papers-- passport, birth certificate, and driver's license-- and an envelope with enough money to buy herself a new car. In accordance with her affinity for Nina Simone, Maggie's code name will be Nina. Stepping out of the compound looking like any other working professional, Maggie hails a cab to take her to the airport.
Maggie's first task in Venice is to find a place to stay. Walking down a street, she spots a sign outside a small apartment building saying that an apartment is for rent. Approaching the manager, a young man named J.P. (Dermot Mulroney
), she inquires about the apartment. He shows her around, having warned her that it would take a lot of work before it was fully ready as it is trashed, but Maggie is pleased with the ocean view from the window and says she'll take the apartment.
Maggie's next task is buying herself groceries. She walks through the supermarket, pushing her cart a little aimlessly; clearly not sure how to go about picking up food. Following another woman shopper's choices she loads her cart up with cans of canned ravioli, cantaloupes, a stack of packaged TV dinners, and half a dozen loaves of bread.
J.P happens to be in the supermarket as well. When Maggie drops a number of her ravioli cans while preparing to check out, he comes to help her place her groceries on the register counter. They make some small talk as the cashier begins ringing up the items. She boldly invites him to join her for dinner that evening.
Over dinner, J.P. tells Maggie a little about himself; in return for managing the building and collecting rent checks for the landlord, he gets half off his own rent. In his spare time, he's working on building up a photography portfolio. Maggie listens in rapt fascination, and suddenly takes a piece of ravioli in her mouth and playfully approaches J.P., inviting him to bite off the half that's sticking out of her mouth. J.P. briefly hesitates but then follows through, and Maggie begins to kiss him. They begin a relationship. He helps her fix up her apartment and takes a number of photographs of her.
Four months pass and J.P. finally has noticed that outside of him, Maggie seems to know nobody in the neighborhood and has no friends or family. He realizes he doesn't know a lot about her life. Maggie is agreeable to J.P. asking her some questions... but the ones he asks take her completely off-guard; questions that the cover identity prepared for her don't take into account. J.P. notes her reaction and walks away, a little upset. Maggie goes up to him while he gazes out of her window, and finally tells him a little about her true self; her actual connection to artist Nina Simone-- who was not only her favorite musician, but also her mother's. Maggie explains her love for the simple passion in Nina Simone's music, and how she plays it when she thinks about her mother.
Maggie is laying with J.P. in her bed one morning when her phone rings. She answers it, and hears a man on the other end address her as Nina. She's being called to an operative assignment at the Marriott hotel in Century City and is expected at the personnel entrance in an hour. Making up a cover story for J.P. about needing to hurry to El Segundo to salvage the sale of 500 computer video cards, Maggie dresses and heads out.
At the Marriott, Maggie goes to the personnel entrance and makes her way to the room service office, where a man in a suit is seeing to the room service staff and two maids, who are tied to chairs and gagged and blindfolded. The man in charge hands Maggie a maid's uniform and tells her to put it on. Once she's dressed, she's told simply to wait.
Presently, the phone rings, and one of the operatives takes the call, posing as a member of the room service staff. He politely takes the service order and prints up a receipt, telling the caller that the order will take 15 minutes to arrive. THe other operatives quickly set to work preparing glasses of orange juice, a bowl of cereal, several cups and kettles for coffee and tea. The lead operative carefully places a circular disc-shaped object into the base of the coffee pot. Maggie is to bring the room service tray to its destination and then return.
Maggie delivers the room service tray, looking a little nervous as a man in a suit outside the doorway quickly frisks her to make sure she's unarmed. She brings the tray inside the suite where a number of men in suits make small talk. One of the security agents quickly checks the items on the tray, and then signs the receipt for Maggie.
Maggie returns to the room service office, where the operatives are listening and recording all sounds from the suite through an eavesdropping device concealed in the room service tray. She gives the receipt booklet to the lead operative and asks what she needs to do now. Shrugging and looking as though the answer should be obvious, he tells Maggie that she is free to return home.
Changing back into her skirt suit and once again looking like a working professional, Maggie leaves the hotel and smiles as she heads back to her car. As she prepares to start her car up-- a major, fiery explosion suddenly tears through the top floor of the hotel. Maggie knows that she delivered the tray that not only concealed a listening device, but also must have concealed a high-power explosive.
Bob is waiting for her outside her building. Everyone at headquarters, including Kaufman, is pleased at her performance. Headquarters knows she's met a man and is romantically involved with him... Bob now needs to meet J.P. himself. Over Maggie's protests, he tells her that she needs to invite him to her home for dinner.
Bob arrives at Maggie's house for the dinner with Maggie and J.P., posing as Maggie's uncle. During the meal, Bob and J.P. do most of the talking; Bob relaying carefully prepared answers about himself. J.P. asks Bob a little about Maggie, which infuriates her as she had managed to talk J.P. into neither of them talking a lot about their respective backgrounds. Maggie angrily lashes out at J.P. and carelessly lets slip a detail about having come from the ghettos of Kansas City-- despite her cover identity being about having come from Chicago. Bob defuses the situation by telling a gentle story about how Maggie was born in Kansas City. Maggie gives a small smile as she listens to Bob. Bob tells J.P. that he is in the travel business, and is giving both of them a present-- tickets to New Orleans for the Mardi Gras. Maggie suspects that this is a cover to get her to New Orleans where she will have a field assignment.
Maggie has some time to enjoy the festival with J.P., but as they head in search of a suitable bistro to get a meal, they are accosted by two men intent on robbing them. J.P. hands over some cash, but the men are not satisfied with anything less than everything they are carrying. Maggie quickly lashes out, putting her training to use, subduing both assailants... and then having to explain to J.P., although he is impressed at how she handled herself. She calls room service for a meal but the happiness is cut short when the call for Nina arrives. The caller tells her that the bathroom cabinet has a hidden compartment.
Maggie manages to excuse herself to take a bath, filling the tub as cover so she can search the cabinet. She finds a headset and walkie-talkie and sets them up. Her caller tells her to look in the drawers under the sink, and she finds a high-power rifle with a sophisticated silencer barrel and scope, assembling them quickly and expertly. She's then directed to open her window, but there's no handle. She uses the bath at to muffle the sound of her breaking the glass. Her caller directs her to aim at an approaching limousine, but he has to wait for further instructions while she is stalling for time with J.P., who has decided he wants to propose to her. Maggie tries to stifle her tears. Room service arrives which buys Maggie a minute or two as J.P. takes the order and signs the receipt. But her caller still hasn't been identified who Maggie's target is.
As J.P. returns to trying to get Maggie to answer him, she is finally told that her target is a woman in white. J.P. and Maggie's caller are both unknowingly vying for her attention takes away from her focus and she struggles desperately for composure. Finally she makes her shot just before J.P. finally opens the door and confronts Maggie. He sees she's still in her shirt and panties, even though the tub is full, and he notices the broken window. Tearfully, her voice a whisper, Maggie finally confesses that long ago, she did something very bad, and although she came through it, she must spend the rest of her life paying a bitter price. J.P. is moved to compassion and comforts her, but when she begs him to understand that she has her reasons for being secretive, he says he'll take it 'for now.' She's hidden the rifle and radio in the bathtub.
Maggie confronts Bob at the operation HQ. She tells him she's had enough and wants out, but Bob sternly rebuffs her, warning her that 'out' doesn't exist in their field. She tries to appeal to his sense of humanity, insisting that she is no longer the same cold-hearted murderer who he saved from execution.
Bob hands her a dossier on a wealthy man named Fahd Bahktiar (Richard Romanus
), saying that the job needed is specifically what she was trained for; only a woman operative could hope to pull it off. The job entails impersonating his girlfriend to get onto his estate, then killing him and destroying his computer containing secret data on sensitive nuclear information he's peddling to the Middle East... after she downloads it to discs to bring back.
Maggie goes to see Amanda and asks whether Amanda believes she would be capable of leaving the agency. Amanda finally tells Maggie that she doesn't know. Maggie thanks her and leaves... dropping the dossier in a trash bin on her way out.
Back at Maggie's home, she is taking out trash and finds Bob outside. He's recovered the dossier and hands it back to her. Relenting on his initial position, he quietly tells her that if she completes the job, he'll try to help her in return.
Maggie spends time with her assistant, Beth (Lorraine Toussaint
), researching Fahd's girlfriend, Angela (Olivia d'Abo
), studying acquired tapes of a birthday party Fahd threw for her, so Maggie can properly impersonate her. As they are doing their work, J.P. arrives home. His reception of Beth is completely cynical and sarcastic; he's figured out by now that Bob is not Maggie's uncle and that the black Beth is not a relative.
Maggie and Beth pose as stylists that are due to make up Angela's hair and nails. On the terrace, they discreetly try to offer her some jasmine tea which has been drugged, but Angela demurs, saying she doesn't drink tea. Forced to improvise, Maggie waits until Angela puts her hands in Beth's, then Beth grips her hands to hold them while Maggie covers Angela's mouth and injects her with a knockout drug. Unfortunately, before Angela succumbs to the drug, her muffled cries alert her bodyguards and a gunfight breaks out. The two bodyguards are killed, but Beth is hit and wounded. She calls Kaufman to report in, and Maggie is horrified to learn from Beth that Kaufman is calling in a cleaner.
The Cleaner, Victor (Harvey Keitel
) arrives. He puts the two guards, along with a security agent he killed getting into the building, into the hot tub and puts Angela inside as well even though she's unconscious, and begins pouring strong acid into the tubs as part of 'clean-up.' Beth, who knows that there were supposed to be no side casualties in the job, is horrified, but Victor silences Beth with a bullet to her heart. Maggie, getting scared, knows that she can't afford any more screw-ups in finishing the job. She makes herself up as Angela and Victor drives her to Fahd's.
Back at HQ, Kaufman is telling Bob that a cleaner was brought in to make sure the problems that have already arisen in the operation, won't cause a backlash that implicates them. This also includes orders for Victor that after Maggie finishes the job, she must also be killed.
Maggie, disguised as Angela, gains entrance to Fahd's house, She goes to the bathroom where he is taking a bath, and pulls her gun, ordering him to go to his computer and bring up his nuclear program.
Bob is seen hurrying out of the HQ building and into his car.
Maggie herds Fahd into his study and makes him access his computer. When the monitor shows a system error, Maggie suspects him of stalling and pushes him aside, entering a command to write to a floppy disk. But the disk drive is encrypted and requires a password. Maggie threatens Fahd by telling him to imagine what a bullet in the stomach would feel like, in order to get the password from him. Putting a disk into the drive, she begins copying all the data.
One of Fahd's security agents tells Victor that he cannot stay parked where he is and has to move his car. Victor pretends to cooperate, but throws the car into reverse so that the agent is scooped up onto the trunk and tossed over a low fence to tumble down the steep hill that Fahd's estate is located atop.
Maggie finishes copying the data and inserts a device into the computer's disk drive that fries all of the computer's circuits and the hard drive. She orders Fahd on the ground, which Fahd knows means she intends to kill him. Maggie's hand shakes and Fahd notices that she is struggling to carry out her orders. Fahd's survival instincts kick in and he leaps up, tackling Maggie to the ground and wrestling for control of her gun while he yells for his chief bodyguard.
Maggie manages to hit Fahd in the head and then fights her way past several guards to leap into Victor's waiting car. More guards converge, shooting, as the main gate closes to cut off exit. But Victor drives off the main path to bust through a side fence, making it onto a road and escaping.
Maggie says she's through and has had enough... but as Victor turns to look at her, she realizes that Victor is planning to kill her As Victor reaches for his gun, Maggie bashes him with her purse and grabs the hand brake for the car, careening it out of control and leaving it half perched on a bend in the road over a steep incline. Victor hits Maggie in her face, knocking her out of the car. He leaps down after her and they fight. Maggie crawls into a shallow space between the car and the ground, and Victor tries to get at her with a knife. When Victor braces himself by grabbing onto the underside of the car, Maggie lashes out with her boot and the car tips further over the edge of the road, pinning Victor underneath it and partially crushing him. Maggie tries to crawl out sideways from the shallow space protecting her, but Victor manages to grab her by her throat. They struggle until the car finally slides over the edge of the road, breaking Victor's grip and crushing him completely as it slides all the way down the incline, taking him with it.
Bob arrives on the scene as a fire crew is on the scene. They show him where Victor's car is, but there's no sign of Maggie.
Maggie has managed to make it back home and takes a shower. She goes to her bed, finding J.P. seemingly asleep, but she can tell by his breathing that he's awake. J.P. sits up and is horrified on seeing that Maggie is bruised and banged up. He kisses her lightly and gives her a hug.
Bob arrives at Maggie's home and is let in by J.P., whose reaction at the sight of Bob shows that he understands more about his true connection to Maggie than Bob would care for. J.P. shows Bob that Maggie has left home and taken none of her personal belongings with her, not even her purse-- nothing but the clothes on her back... and J.P. understands some of the reasons why. J.P. asks Bob to just let Maggie go. When Bob says he can't, J.P. hands him the disk Maggie was supposed to get for him-- she'd left it with J.P. to give to Bob. Bob picks up one of Maggie's Nina Simone records and asks if he can take it with him.
As Bob starts to drive off, Maggie is seen watching from further down a side street. Shivering briefly, she starts to walk down the street. As she walks, Bob suddenly pulls back and looks intently at her. He calls Kaufman on his mobile phone. He says there was a bad car wreck last night, and Victor is dead, but all the information they needed was salvaged. Bob seems to struggle for a long moment, but finally tells Kaufman that Maggie is dead as well.
Maggie half turns and notices Bob's car driving off. She knows that he spotted her and recognized her and has left her alone.