- Producers: Steve Golin, Jon Kilik
- Writers: Guillermo Arriaga
- Genres: Drama
- Actors: Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, Adriana Barraza, Rinko Kikuchi, Nathan Gamble, Elle Fanning
The movie focuses on four interrelated sets of situations and characters, and many events are revealed out of sequence. The following plot summary has been simplified, and thus does not reflect the exact sequence of the events on screen.
In a remote desert location in southern Morocco, Abdullah, a goatherder, buys a high-powered .270 Winchester M70 rifle and a box of ammunition from his countryman Hassan Ibrahim to shoot the jackals that have been preying on his goats. Abdullah gives the rifle to his two young sons, Yussef and Ahmed (played by local non-professional actors Boubker Ait El Caid and Said Tarchini), and sends them out to tend the herd. Competing gently between themselves and doubtful of the rifle’s purported three-kilometer range, they decide to test it out, aiming first for rocks and then for a bus carrying Western tourists on the highway below. Yussef’s bullet hits the bus, critically wounding Susan Jones (Cate Blanchett), an American woman from San Diego who is traveling with her husband Richard Jones (Brad Pitt) on vacation. The two boys realize what has happened and flee the scene, hiding the rifle in the hills that night.
Glimpses of television news programs reveal that the US government holds the shooting to be a terrorist act and is pressuring the Moroccan government to apprehend the culprits. Having traced the rifle back to Hassan, the Moroccan police descend quickly on his house and roughly question him and his wife until they reveal that the rifle was given to him by a Japanese man, and then sold to Abdullah. The two boys see the police on the road and confess to their father what they have done. (They believe at the time that the American woman has died of her wounds.) The three flee from their house, retrieving the rifle as they go. The police corner them on the rocky slope of a hill and open fire. After his brother is hit in the leg, Yussef returns fire, striking one police officer in the shoulder. The police continue shooting, eventually hitting Ahmed in the back, seemingly killing him. As his father rages with grief, Yussef eventually surrenders and confesses to all the crimes, begging clemency for his family and medical assistance for his brother. The police take him into custody. The family’s fate is unresolved.
At the end of the movie, a phone conversation between Amelia and Richard is repeated from Richard’s end of the phone. This is the original phone call at the beginning of Amelia’s story. In this conversation it can be heard that he is allowing Amelia to go to her son’s wedding because Susan’s sister will be able to watch the twins. It is not until the next morning on another phone call they learn that Susan’s sister cannot take care of them and thus Amelia is forced to take the children with her.