Hank Grotowski (Billy Bob Thornton), a widower, and his son, Sonny (Heath Ledger), are corrections officers in the Jackson, Georgia state prison. They reside nearby with Hank’s ailing father, Buck (Peter Boyle), a racist whose wife committed suicide. Hank is nearly as angry and hateful as his father, and even dislikes his own son.
As Hank and Sonny assist in the execution of convicted murderer Lawrence Musgrove (Sean Combs), the proceedings prove too intense for Sonny, who collapses and then begins to vomit as he is leading Lawrence to the electric chair. Hank beats up Sonny in the jail’s bathroom afterwards for being so “soft”. Some time later, Hank drags Sonny out of bed and tells him to get out of the house..