A murder case that’s just been closed by lethal injection threatens a Nashville prosecutor’s handling of a wide-open case in the present.
Thomas Dennehy is the only lawyer in Tennessee who’s convicted two men, acting independently, of the same wrongful death: Wilson Owens, the hardened 18-year-old who shot grocer Steven Davidson and customer Lucinda Williams during a robbery and has just been executed for their murders; and Charles Bridges, the meth-stoked EMT who sealed the dying customer’s fate when he stuck an air tube down her esophagus and did time for negligent homicide. Now a third man has come forward to claim responsibility: hard con Kwame Jamal Hale, who offers to take the authorities to the never-recovered murder weapon if they don’t believe him. His confession is a supersized roadblock in Dennehy’s quest for the death penalty against Moses Bol, the Sudanese immigrant who allegedly raped and murdered Tamra Hartlett and left her apartment awash in his DNA. As TV commentators debate the morality of the death penalty and the city’s black community butts heads with xenophobic Nationites from Hartlett’s neighborhood, maverick Presbyterian pastor Fiona Towns threatens to torpedo Dennehy’s case by insisting that Bol was with her on the night in question. Given the clouds of uncertainty gathering around his earlier conviction of Owens, Dennehy wonders whether a single juror in Davidson County will ever again vote the needle for the most hardened defendant. But public relations turn out to be the least of his problems when a cunning, murderous enemy takes his activities personally and goes after his cat, his truck and everything else he holds dear.
The setup is familiar, but Arvin (The Last Goodbye, 2004, etc.) calculates everything—the mystery, the office politics, the anti-death-penalty demonstrations, the race riots, the fiendishly escalating threats—so neatly that the whole package is an offer you can’t refuse: the first summer-movie blockbuster of the year.