In 1930, Jericho, a backwater Texan town 50 miles from the Mexican border, two crime syndicates, the Italian mob led by Fredo Strozzi (Ned Eisenberg
), and the Irish mob led by "Mr. Doyle" (David Patrick Kelly
), compete for control of the lucrative border smuggling pipeline. The authorities have been ineffective at keeping the peace, and have have stopped trying. The current Sheriff, Ed Galt (Bruce Dern
), actually seems to be exploiting the conflict for personal gain.
John Smith (Bruce Willis
), a self-described loner without a conscience, enters Jericho and immediately gets into trouble through a careless glance at Doyle's girl Felina (Karina Lombard
). Doyle's henchman, Finn (Patrick Kilpatrick
), notices Smith ogling Felina and confronts him. After some mutual trash talk, Finn smashes the windshield of Smith's car and slashes his tires, then casually directs him to the Sheriff's office. Smith pays a visit to Sheriff Galt and his mute deputy, Bob, who refuse to get involved. Galt advises Smith to buy a gun.
Smith enters the town saloon, finding it empty except for the owner - Joe Monday (William Sanderson
), and orders a whiskey. He takes a set of guns from his pack, and walks back across the street to the Irish HQ to have a word with Finn. John asks tentatively if he will cover the damages. Finn draws first - but is sent flying across the street with a few bullets in his chest. Smith shoots up the place - the others don't move.
Soon, Strozzi offers Smith a job on his team. Smith gets a room at the Italian controlled Hotel, and free meals. Smith meets Strozzi's attractive girlfriend, Lucy (Alexandra Powers
), and learns more about Doyle's most fearsome enforcer, Hickey (Christopher Walken
). At a communal meal for all Strozzi's men, Giorgio (Michael Imperioli
) Strozzi's bad tempered cousin, arrives late - and immediately takes a dislike to Smith. Smith leaves, and returns to the saloon. He becomes dissastisfied with Strozzi's leadership style, and it is implied that Strozzi and Giorgio are incompetent.
That night, while spending time with the prostitute Wanda (Leslie Mann
), the Irish plan a hit on Smith - but he manages to kill both assassins. Smith was set-up by Wanda. She is hysterical. He knocks her out, and later learns that she was blackmailed. He leaves her to be arrested by Galt.
Soon, Smith is summoned to a hideout in the middle of the desert by Strozzi, a roadside diner. They plan a hit on Doyle's next shipment from Mexico... At the border, Smith is given the job to approach the convoy of trucks. He offers the Mexican commandant in charge, Ramirez, an offer to turn on Doyle's men. The Mexicans take it up - and massacre the Irish men under their protection.
Later, Smith pays to release Wanda from the cells, and gives her money to take the next bus out of town. He gives a tip to the Sheriff about the convoy heist, and hears another story about Hickey. Back in Lucy's room, Smith offers money for information on Strozzi, and seduces her.
Soon enough, Doyle and another of his henchmen, Jack (R.D. Call
), attempt to hire Smith to assassinate Strozzi, as his position inside Strozzi's gang makes him perfect. Smith expresses discomfort at the offer and Doyle misinterprets this as a rejection. So Smith decides to play both sides. He quits working for Strozzi. Strozzi pulls a gun on Smith, angrily reminding him "nobody quits me." Smith beats up Giorgio, and then engages Strozzi in an armed standoff. Convinced that Giorgio is a "halfwit" that's not worth dying for, Strozzi stands down.
For his next move, Smith does his best to stay sober a few days as he waits for Hickey to show. He learns from the mechanic that Giorgio has been snooping around, trying to get the dirt on him. Smith delivers a tip to Giorgio - to watch out for Ramirez, in case he turns sides again. Giorgio takes the bait and leaves for Mexico. Smith then tells the Irish where Giorgio will be, and also that he will be with the Mexicans that betrayed him - and stole his money and trucks. He is paid for the info, but still won't commit. He finally meets Hickey, who is immediately suspicious of him.
Hickey returns to Mexico. He enters a cantina, shoots Ramirez, then a border patrol cop, and captures Giorgio. Meanwhile, Smith meets with Felina in an abandoned church to hear her story.
Back in Jericho, Captain Pickett from the Texas Rangers arrives in town to warn Smith and the Sheriff that he is investigating the murder of the border cop. He will return in ten days with more Rangers - and will tolerate one gang in the town, but not two. And he wants Smith to be gone.
Hickey returns - and offers a deal to Strozzi -- $100 grand and the trucks for Giorgio. At the drop-off Strozzi pulls a fast one - he has kidnapped Felina. They swap Giorgio for Felina as Smith looks on. It's war!
Lucy meets with Smith, she tells him that Strozzi and Giorgio found out that she slept with him, and subsequently beat her and mutiliated one of her ears. Smith falls for her story, and gives her $500 to get the next bus out of town. Smith accepts Doyle's offer - but wants $1000 up front. He tells Doyle that he "heard a rumor" that Strozzi has more trigger men arriving in town that night, playing on Doyle's fears that Felina could be targeted again.
Doyle sends Smith to the hideut where Felina is being kept. The place is heavily guarded. He steps in through the front door. Immediately, Doyle's men know something is up. Smith opens fire. He kills every last one of them. Smith puts Felina in a car, and tells her to flee across the border. She gives John her cross. Smith knows he should leave, but instead he waits at the hideout to deliver the bad news to Doyle. Doyle arrives the next morning, and believes his story that Felina was taken. He is devastated. But Hickey is on to him.
Smith returns to Jericho, and takes a bath. Hickey drops by - someone had seen Felina over the border, where she had sold the car. In the room, they find her cross. Smith is taken to a basement over at Doyle's hideout. Jack and Hickey mercilessly beat Smith as Doyle talks about how he "saved" Felina from a crappy life in Mexico. When it becomes clear that Smith will not give up any information, he is left for dead.
The next day two goons return - but Smith is missing. Suddenly he jumps out from a metal cabinet, and using the smaller man as a shield pumps about a dozen bullets into the larger thug. He escapes. Doyle's men try to find him. First he hides out in the saloon, in the walls behind slabs of ice.
He relays some intel to Galt. Galt tells Doyle that Smith is at Slim's Roadhouse in the desert, but knowing really that the Italians are hiding there. Doyle's men set the building ablaze, and proceed to shoot everyone who attempts to escape the flames. Strozzi and Giorgio admit defeat, promising to leave town if they are spared, but Doyle's men coldly gun them down. The Irish assume that Smith has died in the blaze.
Smith returns to the abandoned church to heal. Joe brings him food and bandages everyday, but soon enough the Irish catch onto this. Joe is taken and beaten.
Galt finds Smith and tells him about Joe. Hickey and Doyle are in Mexico, still looking for Felina. John takes Galt's gun, and heads off to Strozzi's old hotel - where Joe is kept. On his way there, he picks up his lucky hat - and stops by the window of the Undertaker's - one of his few friends in town!
Smith storms in to the hotel. Bad guys are blown away like they're on bungee ropes with the force of each gunshot. John follows Jack to an upstairs room -- inside is Joe, tied up. Joe motions with his eyes - and Smith shoots through a cabinet dresser. Jack falls out, dead.
Smith has been shot - but just the once. He pours some whiskey on his wound. He leaves a tommy gun against the door as a message for Hickey, and tells Galt that he'll be at Slim's Roadhouse waiting. Everyone is leaving town - Galt to Houston, and even the Undertaker is getting away while he can!
Smith and Joe wait at the burnt-out building. Doyle, Hickey, and Bob arrive the following morning. Joe hides. Doyle wants a truce. He is lovesick - and just wants to find his girl. Joe jumps out and shoots him dead in retaliation for ruining his town. Bob raises his shotgun, so Smith fires a few rounds into his body. Hickey drops his tommy gun. He walks away - he doesn't want to die in Texas. He asks Smith if he would shoot an unarmed man in the back. Smith tells him he's done a lot worse. Hickey pulls out a pistol and turns - but Smith shoots him in the head.
Smith takes the cross from Doyle's lifeless hand, gets in the car, and leaves to continue his journey.