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Roy Tucker (Gene Hackman), serving time for the murder of his wife's first husband, is approached in prison by a man named Tagge (Richard Widmark) on behalf of a mysterious organization with an offer: in exchange for helping him escape and start a new life, Tucker must work for the organization for a few weeks. Following his escape with cellmate Spiventa (Mickey Rooney)—whom the organization immediately kills—Tucker flies to Puntarenas, Costa Rica where he is reunited with his wife Ellie (Candice Bergen). After a few idyllic days, the organization's Tagge, Pine (Edward Albert) and General Reser (Eli Wallach) return them to Los Angeles. There the details of his mission slowly unfold. He realizes he is expected to assassinate someone and refuses. The organization retaliates by kidnapping his wife.The next morning Tucker fires on his target from a helicopter, but the copter is hit by return fire and crashes. Tucker and Reser escape but Tucker takes Pine hostage, demanding a plane and the return of his wife. At the airstrip, Tucker tells Tagge that he deliberately fired short. Tagge reveals that he had two other shooters in place, including Tucker's supposedly murdered cellmate Spiventa, and that Tagge's group has been manipulating Tucker for over a decade. Aboard the plane with Ellie, Tucker spots someone planting a toolbox in the back of Tagge's car. Unable to get the pilot to abort take-off, Tucker watches helplessly as Tagge is blown up with his car. The couple return to Costa Rica where Tucker sees his new life dismantled as quickly as it was assembled: his false passport destroyed, his money taken and Ellie killed. Spiventa and Pine arrive to kill Tucker but he gets the drop on them and dumps their bodies in the ocean. The film closes with a resolute Tucker vowing not to give in, unaware he is in the cross hairs of yet another assassin.