On a cold, snowy night in Detroit, an El Camino car follows another around town. The car that the Camino is following parks and the driver gets out and walks into a convenience store. The driver is Evelyn Mercer (Fionnula Flanagan
), a good-natured, elderly woman. She catches a young boy named Darnell (Tahliel Hawthorne
) stealing a candy bar and reprimands him before telling the cashier, Samir (Pablo Silveira
), to call the police. We see that Evelyn is bluffing but she uses her threat to talk sense in Darnell who promises to never steal again before he leaves the store. Evelyn admits to Samir that Darnell just needs an older brother as she walks to the rear of the store to pick out a Thanksgiving turkey. The El Camino occupants (Richard Chevolleau
and Awaovieyi Agie
) get out of the car and enter the store, clad in black hoods and wielding shotguns. They demand money from Samir as Evelyn hides behind a counter. She listens as Samir hands over the money before they shoot him dead and gasps, a sound that the hoodlums hear. Outside the store, a second gunshot is heard before the robbers leave the store and take off.
Bobby Mercer (Mark Wahlberg
) drives back into Detroit after an absence to attend his adopted mother, Evelyn's, funeral. He greets his brothers Jeremiah (André Benjamin
) and Jack (Garrett Hedlund
) who gives an emotional eulogy on how Evelyn taught him that he didn't have to be afraid anymore and what it meant to be part of a family. Everyone goes to Jeremiah's house later for reception where Lt. Green (Terrence Howard) briefs his partner, Fowler (Josh Charles), on the Mercer brothers before joining. All wards of the state, the four brothers, currently minus Angel ([linknm0879085]), were raised and adopted by Evelyn herself after she failed to find them appropriate homes elsewhere. Bobby, the oldest brother, holds a reputation as a heavy weight, getting kicked out of hockey after multiple offenses. Jack is the youngest and a "first class fuck-up, third class rock star". Jeremiah is the only brother to move on from his past, a successful businessman with a wife and kids. Green grew up with the brothers, often playing hockey with Bobby, and is on good terms with them despite their reputations as trouble-makers. He admits surprise at seeing Bobby in town but pays his respects for Evelyn.
Bobby and Jack introduce themselves as uncles to Jeremiah's two daughters, Daniela and Amelia (Riele Downs
and Riele Downs
), and tell them that, though they don't look like Jeremiah, they are still brothers. Jeremiah's wife Camille (Taraji P. Henson
) expresses concern with him about Bobby's presence and doesn't like the idea of having him stay at their house. Green speaks to Bobby and tells him that they are investigating Evelyn's murder, informing him that they are speaking to a basketball player who witnessed two men running out of the convenience store the night she was shot. Fowler treats the issue with indifference, inciting Bobby to request that the officers leave.
The three brothers drive to the old Mercer home where Bobby and Jack will be staying. They find Angel waiting for them on the porch, evidently having just returned from the Marines, and berate him for missing the funeral. They enter the house and the weight of the situation starts to hit home; their mother is not there and will not come back. Bobby informs Angel and Jack that they are to stay in their old rooms while he sets up in Evelyn's room. There, he is overwhelmed and breaks down in the bathroom. He washes up and comforts Jack in his room, crying silently as he fiddles with his guitar. Jeremiah announces that he's going out to get a turkey, saying that they should still celebrate Thanksgiving despite everything. As he leaves, Angel expresses the wish to get some air but Bobby reads him like a book: he tells Angel not to mess with the sassy girlfriend he used to have who now has a new boyfriend. Despite Angel's assurances that he won't go, we next see him running half naked through the snow with her as they escape her apartment, her boyfriend (Jay Hunter
) chasing after them in his car, firing shots into the night. Angel and his girlfriend, Sofi (Sofía Vergara
), make it back to the Mercer home.
Bobby makes fun of Angel for bringing Sofi back and tells him that he doesn't want her there, despite Angel's protests that he really cares for her. This only encourages Bobby to make fun again. Angel starts tossing things around the room out of bitterness and to get a rise out of Jeremiah who is trying to watch a football game. This leads to the two of them rough-housing while Bobby cheers them on until Jeremiah manages to tackle Angel to the ground and pins him. Later, they all sit down to eat together. Bobby leads them in saying grace and they silently start to serve themselves and eat, all aware of the empty seat at the head of the table. Jeremiah imagines seeing Evelyn there and she reprimands him for eating with his mouth open. He corrects himself and relates this advice to Angel before looking down at his food again. Angel imagines that he sees Evelyn, asking about his tattoos before showing one of her own, a rose. Angel smiles before he hears her reminding him to keep his elbows off the table. Jack, visibly having the hardest time dealing with Evelyn's absence, imagines her assuring him that, despite all the bad things that happened to him, he is safe now.
Bobby is the last to look up but notices nothing but Evelyn's empty seat. However, he becomes distressed and stops eating before proposing that they play The Turkey Cup, their traditional hockey game. They go out and enjoy the cold night air and festivities before heading to a bar, drinking in memory of Evelyn. Jack becomes drunk but the others are clear-headed enough to further discuss Evelyn's murder. They agree that the police won't get far, though Jeremiah asserts that they should leave the investigation to them. The bartender (Conrad Bergschneider
) comes over and gives his condolences before informing the brothers that he heard the shooting was gang related. Bobby demands to know more but Jeremiah becomes irritated and leaves to go home, refusing to 'get shot up' with his brothers. With some new information from the bartender, Bobby takes Angel and Jack to the car where they arm themselves with some light weaponry (Jack getting stiffed with a crowbar) and head out to an old gang hideout where a party is taking place. Following the bartender's lead, they crash the party, firing a few rounds into the air to scatter the revelers. They confront the gang leader (Mpho Koaho
) and douse him in gasoline, demanding answers about Evelyn's death. Jack casually lights a cigarette as the leader babbles that he had nothing to do with the shooting but does say that the basketball-playing witness the cops interviewed was lying. He backs up this statement by saying that the witness saw the shooters leave at 11 but the basketball court lights go off at 10.
Bobby takes the gang leader out to the very court near the convenience store where, just as he said, the court lights shut off at 10 pm. They allow the gang leader to leave as they wonder why the witness would lie. They return to the house and discuss their findings with Jeremiah while Bobby takes time to make fun of Sofi. Angel, however, is not amused.
The next day, the brothers go to meet with Evelyn's lawyer, Robert Bradford (Kenneth Welsh
), where he reads her will and presents a box to be left for the brothers. He says that Evelyn left quite an impression on him and leaves the brothers alone to divide her belongings. Jack and Jeremiah find their birth certificates which details where they were born and whom to. Bobby finds an envelope full of money and splits it between himself, Jeremiah, and Angel, leaving Jack with a piece of jewelry, joking that it will look good on him. Jeremiah takes the brothers to an abandoned parking complex which he reveals as his latest project to refurbish and make some money off of, stating that the money to start the project shouldn't be an issue. They then go to the convenience store where Evelyn was shot and request to view any security cameras that were recording that night. They watch apprehensively as the shooters enter the store and Evelyn takes cover. When the shooters discover her, they hold her at gunpoint and pause while she speaks to them. Bobby notes that none of what happens makes sense; the shooters have their money and there is no reason to kill Evelyn. They turn their heads away as Evelyn is shot down. They ask the new owner if he knows who the witness was who spoke to the police. The man does not know a name, but describes him to the brothers and says that he plays basketball at a nearby community center. Bobby leads his brothers to their next destination, pissed knowing that their mother was set up and that her murder was not random.
They arrive at the community center where a crowd is watching a basketball game. The brothers interrupt the game, brandishing guns and describe the witness to everyone, demanding to know where he is. Jack notices a kid nervously leave the auditorium and follows him into the hall where he chases him to the end. Angel tackles the kid and they collect Bobby and Jeremiah. They interrogate the kid, named Keenon (Kevin Duhaney
), and ask him why he ran. Keenon admits that the man they're looking for is his brother. Bobby tells Keenon that the three guys behind him are 'his' brothers and all they want from Keenon's is to talk to him. Keenon looks at the four suspiciously despite Bobby's assertion that they are his real brothers but admits that his brother is named Damian (Lyriq Bent
) and tells them where he lives.
The brothers wait outside Damian's apartment before Jeremiah says he has to bail to take his daughters to dance practice. The others make fun of him and snidely remark that he doesn't want to find out who killed their mother. After he leaves, Jack notices Damian by his described 'big hair' and the brothers get out of the car. When Bobby pulls out his gun, Damian gets spooked and runs inside, getting into the elevator before the brothers can grab him. Bobby and Angel run up the stairs while Jack waits to see what floor the elevator stops at. He yells up the staircase that Damian's on level 6 and Bobby runs ahead to catch up. However, as Damian runs into his apartment, he sends his two rottweilers out which attack Bobby. He fires his gun at them, missing, and suffers bites to his arm and leg. Angel uses a fire extinguisher to repel the dogs and they follow Damian into his apartment. They find that he's taken a rope and rappelled out the window, halfway down the side of the building. Bobby shouts down that they only want to talk but Damian unpockets his gun and fires up at them. Fed up, Bobby cuts the rope, sending Damian crashing to the ground.
The three walk calmly outside and find Damian in agonizing pain on the ground. His leg is broken and he can't move. Bobby threatens to leave him there to die unless he gives them information. Damian admits that he was paid off to lie to the police but refuses to tell who the shooters were. Bobby bluffs leaving and Damian cracks, giving the identities of the shooters. Bobby, Angel, and Jack follow his lead to a bar where Jack points out one of the shooters, described with a goatee. Seeing that they're noticed and suspicious, the shooters pull their guns and fire at the brothers before running out of the bar and getting into their El Camino. The brothers run to Bobby's car and give chase through the streets as it begins to snow. Bobby's car takes a beating, skidding on the slick streets and suffering bullet fire from the shooters. However, he manages to maneuver the car to collide it with the Camino, sending it tumbling to a halt. Bobby and Angel get out of the car and tell Jack to stay behind while they confront the shooters. They don't give them the chance to speak, angrily pulling them out of the wreckage and beating them before shooting them dead. Jack watches in shock before Bobby and Angel pull him away and leave together.
Green and Fowler investigate the scene the very next morning, concluding the fact that the two men were murdered with purpose. They suspect the Mercers. Back at the house, Sofi is attempting to bandage Bobby's dog bites as Green and Fowler come knocking. Bobby quickly dons a (very effeminate) robe to hide his wounds and Jack answers the door. When Green questions the brothers on their activities, Bobby plays dumb, even when Green presses that it's curious that Evelyn's killers turn up dead execution style. Angel asks how two robbers would turn into contract killers before Green notices blood trickling from Bobby's arm. Bobby defends that he was just playing hockey as Fowler produces an evidence bag with a sample of hair they claim is Bobby's. Bobby laughs it off, saying that's the oldest trick in the book and Angel pokes fun at Fowler, nearly instigating a brawl. Fowler warns the brothers to tread lightly before he and Green leave.
Later, Bobby takes Jack with him to have a closer look at Damian's apartment, leaving Angel with a very irritated Sofi. However, when she orders him in the other room, he finds her sitting on top of the washing machine, set to spin. As they get intimate, they are interrupted by a knock at the door. Angel answers it to see an insurance agent (Greg Ellwand
) who is delivering news regarding a claim that Jeremiah is to collect. Angel forces Sofi out on the porch while he speaks to the man who reveals that Jeremiah is actually bankrupt and is receiving $400,000 from Evelyn's death.
At Damian's apartment, Bobby and Jack discover a cache of guns beneath the mattress. They collect them in a large bag and Jack finds a digital camera that might be useful. They return home where Bobby unloads the guns, wondering how Damian could have gotten them, while Jack looks through the camera. He is shocked to find that the shooters were following Evelyn, taking pictures of her. Jeremiah and Angel walk into the room. Angel throws Jeremiah a suspicious glance as they all see a picture of Evelyn with her lawyer, Mr. Bradford, the day she died. This prompts curiosity, since Bradford said he only met with Evelyn once, and they decide to investigate him next.
Meanwhile, at a fancy restaurant downtown, a gang is eating dinner together, including members Charlie (Tony Nappo
), Evan (Jernard Burks
) and his wife (Stefanie Samuels
). Their leader, Victor Sweet (Chiwetel Ejiofor
) walks in, clearly irritated. He angrily exclaims that he had asked for out-of-town shooters, not the in-town shooters who are now dead. There would not have been any problems, no investigations, no heat on his back, if the shooters had been from out of town. He quips that you pay out-of-town shooters to go back to where they came from. Evan eats a little while Sweet is talking and this angers Sweet. He empties the plate onto the floor and demands that, if Evan's hungry, he should eat and orders him to eat the food off the floor like a dog. When Evan's wife protests, Sweet demands that she join her husband.
That evening, the brothers break into Bradford's home to search for clues. Jack logs onto Bradford's computer and sees in his daily planner that he met up with Evelyn many times. Sofi unexpectedly shows up at the house and honks her car horn, shouting that a robbery is taking place. Bobby yells at Angel to get a leash on her until Bradford arrives home. Bobby confronts him and pushes him in the snow, demanding to know why he would lie to them about Evelyn. Bradford admits that he was romantically involved with Evelyn and they wanted to keep their relationship a secret. Bobby apologizes for roughing him up, assuring Bradford that they only want to find out who killed her, and the brothers leave.
The next day, Angel follows Jeremiah around town and watches as he goes into a bank with his check for four hundred grand. Looking further into Jeremiah's financial troubles, he finds that Councilman Douglas (Barry Shabaka Henley
) was responsible for closing down Jeremiah's project. He relays this information to Bobby and Jack who decide to follow up on the councilman while Angel continues to follow Jeremiah. Bobby and Jack meet up with Douglas in a parking garage as he is walking to his car, though Douglas dismisses their request to talk to him. As he enters his car, he finds that the seats are drenched in gas. Bobby pours more gasoline over the car as Jack lights his cigarette and yells that he wants to know why Jeremiah's business was shut down and who Douglas answers to. Douglas rolls down his window and gives them a name: Victor Sweet.
They leave the councilman and meet Angel in a bowling alley. It turns out Victor Sweet started out small-time a few years back but now pretty much runs Detroit. He has connections in congress, the police department, everywhere. When Bobby asks why they had to meet in a bowling alley, Angel directs them to a few lanes over where Evan is accepting a yellow envelope from Jeremiah. When Jeremiah leaves, the brothers move in and inquire about the envelope. Later, in the car, Bobby sits with tears rolling down his eyes. The envelope had contained a wad of cash. Angel keeps Bobby from acting out as he calls Jeremiah at home and requests to see him the next day. Meanwhile, Douglas goes to the home of Victor Sweet who is playing cards with Evan, Charlie, and other goons. Sweet congratulates Charlie on becoming engaged and offers to show his fiance some useful tricks in bed. Douglas informs Sweet that the Mercer brothers approached him that day. Sweet asks if Douglas gave his name, which Douglas denies, but Sweet sees past the lie. He sends Douglas to the kiddie table where one of the children asks if he's in trouble. Sweet dismisses the women and children and stands loomingly over Douglas before asking for a pistol.
At the police station, Green reviews surveillance tapes from the station, following up on something Bradford had mentioned to him when going over his statements, something about a police report filed that Green was initially unaware of. His suspicions are confirmed when he sees that Evelyn stopped by the precinct before she died. What he eventually finds surprises him; Evelyn was greeted by Fowler upon entering the station and he evidently spoke with her for an hour before she left. Fowler made no previous statement that this ever happened.
Jeremiah arrives at the Mercer house the next morning and asks his brothers what they found out. Bobby pushes him to the floor and he and Angel tell him that they know about his financial problems and that he is the reason their mom is dead. Jack watches from the sofa as Jeremiah denies everything. He says that the claim he received was an amount that Evelyn put in for his daughters. He fights back, getting off the floor and punching Angel, yelling at him and Bobby for leaving home and leaving him to pay for their mother's bills. Jeremiah wanted to stay legitimate in his business and turned Sweet down when he offered to be a partner in his project. Sweet then pulled strings, making it impossible for Jeremiah to get financial aid. Evelyn tried to help him and this is why he thinks she was killed. As they continue talking, Jack gets up to answer the doorbell. He opens the door to see someone walk away, flipping him the finger and calling his mother a whore before throwing a snowball at him. Jack chases after the assailant, who suddenly turns in the street, shown to be wearing an ominous hockey mask, and shoots Jack in the chest. Jack collapses as Bobby, realizing that Jack is gone, runs out and returns fire with a shotgun. A van pulls up and more hooded men emerge with automatic weapons. They spray the house with gunfire, forcing Bobby back inside, and riddle Jack with more bullets. He crawls to a telephone pole and screams for Bobby.
Angel and Bobby use the weapons taken from Damian's apartment to return fire as the bombardment continues resulting in the deaths of more gunmen. Jeremiah retreats to the kitchen as another attacker enters from the back door. Jeremiah stabs this man to death before dropping his knife in horror and leaving, thinking of his family. As Jack cries on the side of the street, Angel runs upstairs to get a better angle on the shooters before they momentarily run out of ammo. Bobby takes this opportunity and throws a brick at one of the men before tackling him. Angel runs downstairs again as the driver of the van goes into reverse and begins to back up into Bobby. Just before he can hit him, Jeremiah rams the van with his own car. They all run over to Jack who begins to choke on blood. Bobby cries, telling Jack to breathe, but Jack struggles and groans one last time before dying. Bobby takes his gun and opens the driver-side door of the van where the driver is moaning in pain. Bobby points the gun at him and demands to know whether Victor Sweet ordered the hit. The gunman nods and when Bobby lowers his gun, mutters 'thank God'.
"Thank God? You killed my mother and my brother. Thank Victor Sweet," Bobby says before aiming the gun at the driver and pulling the trigger.
The police arrive and Green approaches the brothers, sullen over Jack's death. Bobby becomes angry but Green tells him he has his own problems and is dealing with a dirty cop within his department. Angel asks if it's Fowler, but Green won't openly admit it. He apologizes for Jack's death before leaving, making mention that no charges will be filed against the brothers since they acted in self defense.
Green goes to a local bar where Fowler is playing pool. Green confronts Fowler about failing to mention that he'd met with Evelyn but Fowler simply states that he didn't think it was that important. He apologizes when Green says he should have been told regardless and hands him a pool cue to take a shot. Green takes a swing with it and knocks Fowler's legs out from under him, telling him he can't stand dirty cops before removing his gun and badge. Green exits the bar out of the back where his car is parked and Fowler follows him, saying that he forgot to mention one thing. He takes a hidden gun out and shoots Green in the chest, then again multiple times, killing him. He wipes down the gun and tosses it into the alley. He then takes Green's gun and places a call on the car radio for police backup, officer down, as he fires random shots into the air.
Both Green and Jack are buried and the brothers return home, unsure of what to do. They know that Fowler was involved in getting Evelyn killed and they reason that Evelyn had tried to file a police report against Sweet for complicating Jeremiah's business. Fowler interjected and, since he works with Sweet, got rid of the file and alerted Sweet who ordered the hit on Evelyn. Bobby discusses killing Fowler but Angel disagrees, saying that a lot of heat would come down on them for killing a cop and they already have a contract out for their lives from Sweet. Jeremiah suddenly comes up with a plan.
Jeremiah sends his family away for a few days and Camille makes Bobby promise that nothing will happen to him. Then he goes to Evan's house to propose his plan, knowing he can trust him since they were in a union together. The offer on the table is $400,000 paid to Sweet to remove the hit on their heads. He returns home to tell Bobby and Angel that Sweet took the hook and is planning to meet that very afteroon. This doesn't offer Bobby and Angel much time, but it is agreed that Jeremiah will leave to meet Sweet with the money while Bobby follows. Angel will make sure that Fowler is kept occupied.
Angel heads over to Fowler's house immediately and uses a kid (Mathew Peart
) practicing baseball to falsely sell candy bars at Fowler's front door while Angel sneaks in the back. Angel takes Fowler by surprise and puts a plastic bag over his head, wrapping it with a belt. He calls Bobby, giving the signal that allows Jeremiah to leave with the money. Fowler manages to tear at the bag at the last moment and is held at gunpoint by Angel. Meanwhile, Sofi arrives at the police station to confess that Angel was talking about killing a cop. This incites a squad to head out to Fowler's house where they set up a perimeter. Fowler revels at the sound of sirens and tells Angel that he's finished. Angel disagrees, stating that he knows Fowler killed his partner. Fowler admits to the crime and says that he could kill the entire police department if Angel was the only witness; no one would believe a Mercer over him. Angel chuckles and reveals that he has a hidden wire on him feeding their entire conversation to a surveillance unit outside. Though this is a bluff, Fowler takes the bait and turns the tables on Angel, bringing him outside as his hostage instead. This confuses the police stationed in front of the house and, when Fowler fires shots at them, they return fire, incapacitating and killing him.
Meanwhile, Jeremiah rides with Evan and Charlie to the meeting spot in the middle of a frozen lake. In the distance, he sees Sweet's goons using chainsaws to cut large holes through the ice. Sweet arrives moments later, half surprised to see Jeremiah there. Jeremiah hands over the money and reiterates the terms, that Sweet will lay off him and his brothers, especially seeing as burying a mother and a brother is payment enough. Jeremiah then tells Sweet that he and his brothers came up with a new plan, that the money given to Sweet will be distributed to his mistreated goons instead. Gravely insulted, Sweet orders Evan to hand over a pistol but Evan refuses, reminding Sweet that he was in the union a long time and never missed a meeting. When Sweet threatens that he told Fowler about the meeting, Jeremiah reveals that he won't be coming. Sweet faces off against his goons, asking which one will be man enough to take him down, before he sees a figure walking across the ice towards them. It's Bobby, walking tall and with vengeance in his eyes.
Sweet begins to laugh as they remove their coats and begin to fight. Jeremiah and Sweet's goons egg them on as Sweet and Bobby beat each other. Finally, Bobby gets the upper hand and deals a severe blow under Sweet's chin, knocking him out. He tells the others to dump him in the hole. The goons drag Sweet to the edge of the hole in the ice and toss his limp body in the freezing water as Jeremiah and Bobby leave. Jeremiah asks if the cops will give them much flack but Bobby isn't worried, saying that the police love the Mercers.
The three brothers are subjected to beatings in their own interrogation rooms as the cops demand to know how it went down with Fowler and what happened to Victor Sweet. The brothers refuse to talk, joking with the cops that all they did the previous night was bed their wives. This does nothing but bring on more severe beatings but the brothers are eventually released, to the relief of Camille and Sofi.
By Christmas time, the brothers work hard to bring the Mercer home, still riddled in bullet holes, to its former glory, fixing windows and doorways. Sofi and Camille bring everyone inside for food as Bobby finishes sawing some wood planking. A street hockey puck hits his leg and he returns it to the kids who had been playing behind him. One asks if Evelyn is coming back, to which Bobby says 'no'. He tells them to enjoy their game as he turns to go into the house. Sitting on the front steps, he sees Evelyn crocheting and smiling before she tells Bobby that it's good to see him again. She asks if he will stick around for a while and Bobby smiles and says, "Thinkin' about it, ma. Thinkin' about it." She smiles back at him. Bobby turns his head for one moment and, when he looks back, she is gone. Having made peace, Bobby goes inside to join his family.