Mike Max (Bill Pullman) is a wealthy and powerful Hollywood producer of violent movies who's cynical, paranoid, and self-centered. His wife Paige (Andie MacDowell) is fed up with his indifference and ready to leave him. Then he is kidnapped by two men hired to kill him. Max's life is in jeopardy because he has received via e-mail an unsolicited file from Ray Dering (Gabriel Byrne), a one-time acquaintance who is working on a top secret government surveillance project designed to cut down street crime. The powers that be predict that this work can lead to an end of violence, but Dering is not sure the end justifies the means.

Other characters illustrate the pervasiveness of violence in American culture. A detective (Loren Dean) who knows a lot about movies, a stuntwoman (Traci Lind), a Salvadoran refugee (Marisol Padilla Sanchez), a gangsta rap producer (K. Todd Freeman), and some immigrant Mexican gardeners all have had their lives colored by violence. They are either victims or perpetrators of it — and sometimes both.

Writer Nicholas Klein and director Wim Wenders (Until the End of the World, Wings of Desire) have made a sophisticated and pensive film about a subject that fills contemporary movies and fuels our fantasies. At one point, the detective is asked for a definition of violence and he replies: "fear, absence of love, emotional revenge." This fluid and mesmerizing drama covers those sources and adds other variations including paranoia, the violation of privacy, distrust of strangers, and the myth of violence as a way of solving problems or entertaining. The detective also hints at the true antidote to violence through his understanding of a truth from modern physics: "If you just look at an object, you change it." And there are many ways to see.

Instead of trying to seduce us with blood and gore, Klein and Wenders ask us to consider the connections that bind us to lovers, strangers, the environment, and even enemies. As Mike discovers, a traumatic experience can turn a life around and put us on a path of healing, reconciliation, and renewal.