Cathy Schulman (Crash, The Illusionist))
Celebrity Pastor Dan Day (Pierce Brosnan) is a hero to his congregation, with a TV show, real estate ambitions, and leadership position in the community. Two of his strongest followers, Carl Vanderveer (Greg Kinnear) and his wife Gwen (Jennifer Garner), are also pillars of the community. Carl is hoping to go into business with Dan, who is planning to build a huge complex, his “City on the Hill”, with apartments, movie theatres, ships and restaurants, all dedicated to the power of his vision.
But what his supporters don’t know is that Dan isn’t the moral, devout pastor they believe him to be. Carl and Gwen attend a public debate between Dan and Professor Peter Blaylock (Ed Harris), a well-known atheist and outspoken skeptic of Pastor Dan’s theories. Retiring after the debate to Blaylock’s office to continue the discussion over a drink, Dan invites Carl to join them.
Hoping this is his opportunity to pitch for his business, Carl eagerly accepts. The men talk cordially at first and admire Blaylock’s collection of antique guns, but the conversation soon becomes heated and Dan reaches for one of the guns to a make a point. It goes off, hitting Blaylock, who collapses onto the floor.
Fearful that his antagonistic relationship with Blaylock gives him motive for murder, and knowing that an arrest of scandal could derail his lofty ambitions, Dan convinces the shocked Carl that they should leave as quickly as possible and keep the shooting a secret.
Afraid that Carl will go to the authorities in spite of his promise, Dan turns to one of his most loyal followers, Jerry Hobson (Jim Gaffigan) for help. They decide to cover-up the accident to make it looks like a suicide attempt. But it leaves Carl as the wild card, and the two men agree they have to get rid of him permanently. Jerry kidnaps Carl and drives him out to the desert to kill him, but they fight, and Carl manages to escape. He finds his way home and confides in Gwen and her father, Jim, (Sam Elliot), an ex-marine, but they don’t believe him. They are still under Pastor Dan’s spell.
Carl knows the only way the truth will come out is if he can prove it, but there are more than enough supporters of Pastor Dan who are willing to hunt Carl down to silence him. He becomes obsessed with finding the evidence, while his personal life and relationship with Gwen begin to deteriorate under the strain.
Unexpectedly, Carl is approached by construction mogul Jorge de Vaca. De Vaca has the evidence Carl is looking for, a copy of the surveillance DVD from Blaylock’s university, which clearly shows the shooting. But de Vaca isn’t interested in justice. He knows the Pastor is crooked and has been trying to find something illegal on Dan for years so he can blackmail him into getting the exclusive contract for “The City on the Hill”. He, too, just wants to make sure that Carl keeps quiet. But Carl wants no part of more lies and deceit, and behind de Vaca’s back, switches the discs so he has the copy of the shooting.
When de Vaca meets Dan to show him the DVD, to expose the cover-up and make the deal, he realizes that Carl has tricked him and he has nothing to blackmail Dan with. Enraged, de Vaca stabs and kills Dan.
Not knowing that Dan is dead, Jerry and his cronies make one last, violent effort to silence Carl to protect their preacher. But it backfires with horrific results as Carl gets away again. Blaylock, who has been lying in a coma since the shooting, awakens and reveals to the media and the authorities what really happened. But with Dan missing, the community is in denial over his crimes and Carl realizes his safety may still be in jeopardy.