Adrian LeDuc (Firth) is the British owner of a revival house in Buenos Aires. Apart from his mother, the core of his emotional life is movies, specifically classic American movies and stars. The story begins with Adrian in his theater, watching the final scene of Touch of Evil.
As his theater loses more and more money, Adrian advertises for a roommate to share his apartment rent. After several unsatisfactory applicants, he meets American Jack Carney (Bochner), who agrees to take the room. The shy, repressed Adrian is both intimidated by and attracted to Jack, who exudes confidence and strength, and attempts to win Jack's trust and companionship. Jack seems to suspect this and doesn't mind, and he takes a liking to his new landlord.
Jack befriends some of the neighbors. Adrian complains to Jack, telling him that the neighbors aren't to be trusted. Despite Adrian's jealousy, Jack continues to socialize with several of them, becoming sexually involved with Laura, whose husband is frequently away. Claudia, the ticket seller at Adrian's cinema, is involved with a political committee investigating a series of murders that bear a striking resemblance to those committed by members of death squads that operated in Argentina during its last civil-military dictatorship (1976–1983).
Adrian learns that Jack has been lying about his employment and becomes paranoid that Jack is spying on him. He searches Jack's room and finds a number of photographs of Jack in paramilitary garb. Jack returns and calms a highly agitated Adrian, but his own suspicions are aroused when he realizes that Adrian has been in his room.
Though he's personally apolitical, Adrian allows Claudia's committee to use his theatre to view footage of death squad members. Adrian is horrified to see the same sign in the film as appeared in some of the photos of Jack he'd found earlier. Jack, realizing that Adrian is growing more suspicious, falsifies Adrian's passport and prepares to leave Argentina. Unfortunately, the passport is expired and he can't leave. Jack picks up a young gay man and murders him for his passport—but then makes a hash of trying to paste his own photos into the dead man's passport.
Meanwhile, Adrian is devastated by the death of his mother. Adrian gets drunk and creates a disturbance in his apartment, concerning his neighbors. The following morning a television report of the murder of a young man leads the neighbors to think that Adrian has done something to Jack. That evening, the neighbors confront Adrian, forcing their way into his apartment and physically attacking him. Jack returns and tends to the badly injured Adrian.
As Adrian attends his mother's funeral, Claudia comes to the apartment and recognizes Jack from the death squad photos. Adrian returns to find Claudia dead at Jack's hands. A clearly unhinged Adrian, who is as terrified of losing Jack as he is horrified by Claudia's murder, helps Jack dispose of the body. On the way out they run into Laura and her husband. Looking for an alibi, Jack says he's leaving for California in the morning.
After they dump the body in a garbage landfill outside the city, Adrian suggests they really go to California together and Jack agrees. Back at the apartment Adrian changes his mind and goes for Jack's gun in the living room. Jack realizes what's happening and begins strangling Adrian, but eventually lets him up. Adrian again goes for the gun and he and Jack struggle. With the gun pointed at him and with Adrian's finger on the trigger, Jack says "Do it" and the gun goes off.
Some days after, Adrian is having dinner when Laura comes to the door, seeking Jack's address in California. Adrian says he hasn't heard from him and shuts the door. He returns to the table and pours two glasses of wine, one for himself and one for Jack's corpse, which he has kept and sat at the table. The final scene shows a large crowd outside Adrian's cinema, which is now a porn theater. Adrian, who has never gone out in public without a suit and tie, stands in the building's doorway wearing a T-shirt and Jack's black leather jacket, while smoking a cigarette—all just as Jack used to do.
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