The traditions of the western and the gangster film meet head-on in this dark crime drama. Jericho is a small town in Texas that in the 1920s looks much like it did in the 1860s, except that two violent gangs of rival bootleggers have driven away nearly all of the citizens not involved in the booze racket. Strozzi (Ned Eisenberg) leads a gang of Italian rum-runners with the help of his right-hand-man Giorgio (Michael Imperioli), while Doyle (David Patrick Kelly) is the head of an Irish mob, with Hickey (Christopher Walken) serving as his enforcer; the town's sheriff, Ed Galt (Bruce Dern) is powerless to stop the crime in Jericho, and he mainly tries to stay out of the way and keep an uneasy peace between Strozzi and Doyle. John Smith (Bruce Willis) is a ruthless and amoral gunman on the run from the law who passes through Jericho on his way to Mexico. Sizing up the situation, Smith quickly hatches a scheme by which he'll sell his services first to one of the gangs, and then the other, eventually turning the two sides against each other while he stays in the middle and takes the profits generated by both sides. Writer and director Walter Hill based his screenplay on Akira Kurosawa's classic samurai picture Yojimbo, which also inspired Sergio Leone's ground-breaking spaghetti western A Fistful of Dollars.
by Mark Deming synopsis