The movie begins on a foggy night with a young woman sitting on a widow's walk. Below, ambulances are leaving the house. A police officer asks if she is Kathy Nicolo.
On the day it all began, Kathy was awakened by a 6:00 a.m. phone call from her mother, who lives on the east coast. Kathy lies and says her husband is there when in fact he left her six months earlier. After revealing that Kathy's brother's wife is pregnant, her mother says she is coming to visit friends in two weeks and will drop in. This is unwelcome news. The house is a mess, with unwashed dishes in the kitchen and unopened mail spilling across the floor.
Suddenly there is a sharp knock at the door. Outside, Kathy sees two police officers and two other men. She is informed that the house is being seized for non-payment of a business tax and that she must vacate the property at once. Stunned, Kathy tries to explain that she inherited the house from her father and there is no tax owed. But the tax office has sent her several notices, none of which she opened. One of the police officers tells her that unless she moves her belongings out, they will be auctioned along with the house. He advises her to call friends or family to help her move. But there is no one to call. The officer takes pity on her and introduces himself as Lester Burdon. He knows of some movers who owe him a favor. He sends the other officer for cardboard boxes so they can help her move. By the end of the day, Kathy's belongings are in storage and she gets a room at a cheap motel. She is a house cleaner and cannot afford anything nicer.
Colonel Massoud Behrani was forced to flee Iran with his family. He and his wife Nadi have two children, Soraya and Esmail. They are all American citizens now. Soraya is being married and her parents throw her a lavish wedding. With that out of the way, Behrani must begin saving money for his son's college education.
No one knows that he works two menial jobs to support his family. By day he is a highway worker and at night he works in a convenience store. He has saved money and plans to invest in a house he can fix up and sell for more than he paid. In the newspaper he sees an advertisement for the auction of a seized property. It is the house taken from Kathy Nicolo. Behrani attends the auction and buys the house for a fraction of what it is worth. He is advised to add a widow's walk to increase the resale value.
Kathy's visit to Connie Walsh, a lawyer, doesn't go well. Clearly there has been a mistake. She recalls signing a paper months ago that she owed no tax, but since she didn't open her mail she was unaware of any problems. Kathy is stunned to learn that the house has already been sold. Connie says she can sue the county but that would take months. Or their office can contact the owner and ask if he would be willing to sell the house back to the county for what he paid. Kathy is adamant that she must have the house back in two weeks for her mother's visit. Connie warns her to let them handle it and on no account approach the owner.
Nadi does not want to move but Behrani gives her no choice. She is reminded of the time back in Iran when he cut down several beautiful trees at their summer home so they would have a better view of Caspian Sea.
Kathy drives to her former home and is outraged to see the widow's walk being constructed. She orders the workmen to stop but they tell her to speak to the owner. Then Kathy steps on several nails and cuts her foot badly. The workmen help her to the door. Nadi is kind to her and bandages the foot. Her English is not good so Kathy doesn't really explain why she is there.
Reporting all this to Connie results in a letter to Behrani, explaining the mistake and requesting that he vacate the house at once rather than later. Behrani is outraged and pays Connie a visit. He has had the house appraised and its current market value is $174,000. If the county wants to pay that amount, he will sell the house back. But he will not sell it for what he paid for it at auction.
Kathy is in her storage unit when Lester drops by. He is off duty and in the area, so he decided to check on her. They go out for drinks, although Kathy explains that she is a recovering alcoholic. She brings Lester up to date on what is going on with her house. He is sympathetic and gives her his direct line at the station.
The motel owner tells Kathy that her credit card was declined and she must leave. Wearily, Kathy asks if it could wait till Friday when she will get paid. The answer is no and Kathy is now forced to live in her car. She is already drinking again and now she starts smoking. Lester comes to the rescue and installs her in a nice motel room. They begin an affair after he leaves his wife and children, which he has been wanting to do for a long time.
The widow's walk is finished and Behrani is showing the house to prospective buyers. Then Kathy pulls up in the driveway. Behrani lies and says she is there to pick up some tools left behind by her construction worker boyfriend. He grabs her arm and forces her back in the car. As she drives off, she yells that the house is stolen. The buyers decide that they are no longer interested.
Soraya and her husband are back from their honeymoon. Behrani and Nadi host a party for them on the widow's walk. Kathy and Lester drive by and are disgusted by the merrymaking. Lester squeals the tires as they make a u-turn and leave. Even though they are in Lester's car, Kathy feels Behrani's eyes on her.
Lester and Kathy move to a fishing camp owned by one of his friends. There is no electricity or running water so they use lanterns and a gas stove. He notices the bruise on Kathy's arm where Behrani grabbed her and decides to do something about it. After putting on his uniform but removing the name tag and whatever else might identify him, they drive to Behrani's.
When Behrani comes to the door, Lester identifies himself as Officer Joe Gonzalez. He tells Behrani that it is illegal to post a sign on a telephone pole, as Behrani did when he advertised the house for sale. Lester then attempts to intimidate Behrani by asking if he is in this country legally. Behrani identifies himself as an American citizen. Esmail and Nadi come out of their rooms in time to hear Lester threaten to deport the family unless Behrani sells the house back to the county. After Lester leaves, Nadi angrily asks Behrani what he has done. The quarrel escalates and he slaps her. Esmail helps her out of the room and Behrani spends the night alone.
Lester returns to his car where Kathy is waiting and tells her it is obvious that Behrani isn't just off the boat. The next day, Behrani goes to the police department and reports Lester to Internal Affairs. He remembers that Lester was wearing an unusual pin, one with two pistol barrels crossed and the letters FTO. Since there are only eight field training officers on the force, Lester is easily identified.
It is his day off and Lester has gone home to see his wife, who has told the children that their separation is only temporary. The phone rings and it is Internal Affairs, ordering Lester to come in at once. Meanwhile, Kathy is back at the camp waiting for him. When he doesn't come, she decides he has reconciled with his wife. She goes to the Behrani home and tells Nadi everything. Nadi is very sympathetic and promises to talk to her husband. Behrani arrives just as Kathy is leaving. In a fury, he grabs her and shoves her into her car, shouting that she is nothing and to tell her idiot deputy that his superiors know what he did. Kathy drives away and calls her brother from a phone booth, intending to ask for his help but he cuts her off. She then goes to a liquor store, where she purchases several bottles. She decides to burn the house down. If she can't have it, then neither can Behrani. After filling a gas can, she opens the trunk and sees Lester's gun belt. She takes the gun and leaves the gas can sitting on the sidewalk.
Behrani looks outside and sees Kathy once again parked in his driveway. He runs out and starts yelling until he sees the gun. Kathy is aiming it at her head, sobbing wildly. He takes it away from her and carries her into the house. He and Nadi put her in Esmail's room to sleep it off.
Lester goes to the camp and finds the meal Kathy had prepared for them still on the table. He realizes she must have gone to the Behrani home and might be in danger. Meanwhile, Kathy has gone into the bathroom and swallowed Nadi's pain medication. When Nadi realizes what she has done, she makes Kathy throw up the pills. Behrani and Nadi are in the process of getting her back to the bedroom when Lester breaks the kitchen door down. He charges in and seizes the gun, which was left on a table. Holding the family at gunpoint, he demands to know what they have done to Kathy. Esmail explains about the pills and produces the empty bottle. There is nothing to do but let her sleep off the effects.
While she is sleeping, Lester orders the family into the bathroom and locks the door. They remain there the entire night. By morning Behrani has come up with a plan. He offers to sell the house back to the county, then give Kathy the check in exchange for her signing the house over to him.
Kathy wakes up and Lester sees she is fine. He tells her of the offer made by Behrani but Kathy is skeptical. She asks several times if they can't just leave. But Lester points out that she will need money to make a fresh start. Over her protests he leaves, taking Behrani and Esmail with him. Earlier he unloaded the gun and gave Kathy the bullets to keep. The Beharnis do not know they are being held hostage with a useless gun.
Behrani tries to get Lester to allow Esmail to wait in the car but he won't. Keeping the gun hidden, Lester marches them toward the county office. He is very nervous at seeing a number of police officers about. Then a rookie cop stops him to thank him for all he learned by riding with Lester.
The trio start up the steps leading to the county offices. Suddenly Behrani grabs Lester and yells at Esmail to get the gun, which he does. It was Behrani's intent to hold Lester captive while Esmail got help. But the plan fails. Esmail is confused when officers draw their weapons and order him to drop the gun. When he doesn't, they shoot him in the chest. Behrani drops to his knees and cradles his son, wailing aloud. An ambulance arrives and takes Esmail to the hospital, while Lester and Behrani are taken into custody.
Covered with his son's blood, Behrani prays aloud that the boy will live. Lester confesses to everything and Behrani is cleared. He runs all the way to the hospital, but Esmail has died. After saying a tearful goodbye to his son, Behrani returns home. Meanwhile, Lester is booked into the nearest jail. He tries to call his wife but she doesn't answer.
Nadi falls ill with a headache and goes to bed. Kathy then leaves the house and drives to the pier. She stays there for a while.
When Behrani arrives home, Nadi is just waking up. He cannot bear to tell her about Esmail. After changing his blood-soaked shirt, he brings her a cup of tea laced with an fatal overdose of medication. She drinks it and soon dies. Behrani then dresses himself in his Iranian colonel's uniform and puts a plastic bag over his head. Lying next to his wife, he commits suicide by suffocation.
Kathy returns to the house and finds the bodies. She rips the plastic from Behrani's head and performs CPR but it is too late. She realizes it is her fault and curls up on the bed. Eventually the police come.
The movie ends with Kathy answering the officer's question. Yes, she is Kathy Nicolo. He asks if this is her house and she says no.