Police psychologists review recordings of a man (De Niro) who the audience is led to believe is Detective David
Fisk, the "Poetry Boy" killer. The Poetry Boy earned the moniker for
his modus operandi
of murdering criminals and leaving short poems with their bodies. Fisk
reveals that he looks up to his partner of almost 30 years, Tom Cowan
(who we are led to believe is the character portrayed by Pacino),
and considers him to be his role model of how a cop should be. Pacino's
character is known by the nickname "Rooster" and De Niro's by "Turk,"
and they are referred as such outside of the recordings.
These recordings provide a narrative, and the film opens with the
tenth victim, a drug dealer named Robert "Rambo" Brady (Dyrdec).
Turk and Rooster investigate the murder with the less-experienced
Detectives Corelli (Gugino), Perez (Leguizamo), and Riley (Walhberg). When they find a poem on the body, they link it
to the Poetry Boy.
As Poetry Boy murders acquitted rapist Jonathan Van Luytens and
Father Connell, a Catholic priest and child molester (children including
Poetry Boy himself), tension builds between Turk, Corelli, and Perez.
Turk is now living with Corelli, who happens to be Perez's
ex-girlfriend. Meanwhile, Rooster plants a gun at the house of acquitted
child molester and murderer Charles Randall (Hughes), convicting him. Poetry Boy assaults Perez, Corelli,
and an attempted fourteenth victim, Russian mobster Yevgeny Mugalat.
Perez and Riley suspect Turk of being Poetry Boy due to his markmanship
skills and psych evaluations, so they arrange a secretly supervised
meeting between Turk and a drug dealer Marcus "Spider" Smith (Jackson)
(during which Turk supposedly must kill him). However, Turk proves his
innocence during an encounter with this drug dealer as he has the
"wrong" gun and humiliating but obviously inappropriate poem. After
Perez and Riley leave the scene unsatisfied, Rooster kills Spider.
During this scrape Rooster inadvertently drops his diary.
Turk stumbles upon and reads Rooster's journal, Rooster claims Spider
as Poetry Boy's fourteenth victim. Rooster puts Turk in front of a
video camera and forces him to read the journal. At this point, it is
realized that the recordings from the film's beginning and therefore the
narration merely set Turk up as a red herring, and
Rooster is the actual Poetry Boy. Turk's name is actually Tom Cowan, and
Rooster's David Fisk.
When Turk finishes, he chases Rooster to a construction site. Rooster
fires aimlessly to convince Turk to report that the Poetry Boy is
assaulting a police officer, resisting arrest, and fleeing, but Turk
resists. When Rooster takes aim at Turk, Turk fires, striking Rooster in
the chest. He calls for an ambulance, however Rooster begs him to
withdraw the ambulance. After some hesitation, Turk calls off the
ambulance, allowing Rooster to bleed to death. He is last shown coaching
a Police Athletic League baseball team as Corelli looks on.