Determined to turn her life around, Marie (Sissy Spacek) escapes her wife-beating husband and goes back to Tennessee. Struggling to bring up her children, she gets a job from old school friend Eddie Sisk (Jeff Daniels) working for the Governor (Don Hood). But Marie discovers that Sisk is part of a corrupt system (Morgan Freeman, John Cullum) involved in a 'bribes-for-pardons' scheme that leads to the release of dangerous criminals back onto the streets. Marie tries to warn the Governor but quickly finds the corruption goes deeper than she thought. Having lost her job and in the wake of intimidation, rape and murder, Marie struggles to expose the dirty dealing and bring the Governor's regime to justice. She challenged the state of Tennessee and put criminal justice on trial.