Set in 1991, the film depicts the U.S. and Chinese Governments on the verge of a major trade agreement with the American President due to pay a visit to China to seal the deal. When the Central Intelligence Agency gets word that operative Tom Bishop (Brad Pitt) has been captured trying to free an Englishwoman, Elizabeth Hadley (Catherine McCormack), from a Chinese prison near Su Chou (Suzhou), and is being questioned under torture and will be executed within twenty-four hours unless he is claimed by the U.S. Government, they scramble to decide what to do. Lacking the courage to save their agent's life, they say that if they claim Bishop as an agent, they risk destroying the trade agreement. Exacerbating the situation is the fact that Bishop was operating in a "rogue" capacity without permission from the Agency. In an attempt to quickly deal with the situation, CIA executives call in Nathan David Muir (Robert Redford), an aging mid-level case officer on his last day before retirement, and the man who recruited Bishop. Although they tell Muir that they simply need him to act as a "stop gap" to fill in some holes in their background files, the officials are in reality hoping that what he gives them is the smoking gun they need to justify letting Bishop die. Realizing as much, Muir attempts to save Bishop by leaking the story to CNN through a contact in Hong Kong, believing that the CIA will rescue Tom once a public outcry puts pressure on them to do so. Unfortunately for Muir, the tactic only stalls them, as a phone call to the FCC from a high ranking executive results in CNN retracting the story. During the debriefing, referred above, Muir describes how he met Bishop in Vietnam and how he recruited Bishop in Berlin in 1975 and continued to work together there. Bishop is likely supposed to be an officer from the CIA's famed Special Activities Division. Both sub-plots are given extensive time in the film. Considerable time is also devoted to Muir and Bishop's spy work in Lebanon. With his plan quashed, Muir resorts to far more dangerous tactics, secretly creating a forged urgent operational directive from the CIA Director to commence Operation Dinner Out: a daring rescue mission spearheaded by U.S. Navy SEALs. Using US$ 282,000 (all of his life savings) and a misappropriated file on Chinese coastline satellite imagery, Muir bribes a Chinese energy official to cut power to the prison for thirty minutes, during which time the SEAL rescue team retrieves Bishop and Hadley. Hadley, who fled the UK after carrying out a bombing of the Chinese Embassy, met Bishop in Lebanon. She was in the Chinese prison after being kidnapped and exchanged for an arrested US diplomat. It was in fact Muir himself who had arranged the kidnapping, believing she could possibly expose Bishop's true identity as a CIA operative. After realizing that Hadley was the target of Bishop's daring rescue attempt, Muir finally learns that he greatly underestimated Bishop's feelings for her. It is this guilt which prompts him to part with his life savings in order to save her and Bishop, going against his warning to Bishop years previously in Berlin that he would not go after him if he went "off the reservation." Bishop, who is rescued at the end of the film nearly 15 minutes prior to his scheduled execution, realizes Muir was behind his rescue since the name of the plan to rescue him, "Operation Dinner Out", was a reference to a birthday gift that Bishop gave Muir while they were in Lebanon. The ending credits dedicate the film to the memory of Elizabeth Jean Scott, the director Tony Scott's mother, who died in 2001.