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At New York City's Manhattan Trust Bank, a Wall Street institution established in 1948, Dalton Russell and three accomplices, referring to one another as Steve, Stevie and Steve-O, enter the building wearing white painters' coveralls. Using an infrared device, they surreptitiously disable the closed circuit television, then don masks and sunglasses. After Russell declares he is robbing the bank, the gang members draw automatic weapons and order the bank's fifty occupants to the floor, then throw a smoke bomb near the entrance, alerting beat patrolman Sergeant Collins. At a police station, Detective Keith Frazier is on the phone with his girl friend Sylvia, talking about her drug-addicted brother who lives with them, and explaining they must delay marriage for financial reasons. Under suspicion because of money missing from a drug arrest, Frazier, who is innocent, is surprised when his superior, Captain Coughlin, puts him in charge of the hostage crisis. Meanwhile, inside the bank, Russell orders the hostages to hand over their cellphones. Upon finding that one bank employee, Peter Hammond, has withheld his cellphone, Russell beats him behind the wall of one of the offices. The hostages are then ordered to strip to their underwear and don hooded dark blue coveralls and masks. Humiliated, grandmotherly Miriam Douglas refuses to undress, but Stevie, a female, takes her into another room and forces her. Outside the bank, the Emergency Service Unit, headed by Captain John Darius, blocks off adjacent streets, stations snipers and surveillance cameras in key locations and diverts the bank's phone lines to the Mobil Command Center van. Upon learning about the situation, the bank's founder, elderly Arthur Case, calls Madeleine White, a discreet, high-priced power broker and corporate fixer, asking for her assistance in retrieving heirlooms in his safe-deposit box in the bank. When White diplomatically suggests Case is not being honest, he assures her that the box's secret is dangerous only to him if disclosed, and she agrees to help him without further questioning. Meanwhile, Russell and his group separate the hostages into different rooms. With well-planned, coordinated precision, Russell's people take turns harassing the hostages while secretly digging a small hole in a basement storage room. Intermittently, various hostages are moved from room and to room, allowing some of the robbers to spend brief periods pretending to be captives. Russell sends one hostage, a Sikh, Vikram Walia, out of the bank with his hands tied, still wearing the dark blue coveralls, a mask and sunglasses. Russell's demands for two buses and a jet plane are written on a safe-deposit box attached with rope around Vikram's neck, but Frazier, his partner, Detective Bill Mitchell, and Darius agree that they cannot accede. After another demand is made for food, Mobil Command Officer Berk, a surveillance expert, suggests they order pizzas and insert transmitters into the containers. After the pizzas are delivered with the transmitters in place, the police receivers pick up a man speaking in a language they cannot identify. Upon learning from one of the surveillance team that the language is Albanian, Frazier recruits the man's Albanian immigrant ex-wife Ilina to translate. After first insisting that her many parking tickets be excused, Ilina identifies the transmission as a tape of a speech delivered by a now-deceased Albanian president. Realizing that they have been hoodwinked, Frazier phones Russell, who asks him to solve an irrelevant riddle. After hasty discussion with his colleagues, Frazier answers the riddle and Russell orders that the next meal be sandwiches. One of the hostages, Brian Robinson, an eight-year-old Brooklyn boy who was with his father when the gang took control, is separated from the others, but remains naïvely unafraid as he concentrates on a portable electronic game. When Russell gently asks to see it, he is shocked by its graphic violence and says that he will talk to his father about it. Later, inside safe-deposit box number 392, Russell finds several bags of diamonds, a large diamond ring and a document bearing a Nazi seal. Meanwhile, after calling in past favors, White has had the mayor introduce her to Frazier and insist that she be given carte blanche . When Frazier objects, White smoothly suggests that she could have him fired over the missing money issue or assure his promotion, forcing Frazier to allow her permission to enter the bank. Inside, she offers the masked Russell a light sentence and $2,000,000 in exchange for the contents of Case's safe-deposit box. Refusing, he shows her the Nazi document and tells her that an American Nazi collaborator was able to start a bank by taking advantage of Holocaust victims. When Russell declines to give her the document, White promises him a large remuneration for it, if he manages to escape. He assures her he will leave by the front door. Afterward, White tells the skeptical Frazier that she does not believe Russell is a murderer. Frazier guesses that the robbers have been stalling for time and, calling their bluff, phones that their plane is ready, but first insists on proof that the hostages are alive. Russell allows him to enter the bank and, while escorting Frazier through rooms containing the captives, offers him a stick of gum. During their conversation, Frazier mentions that he cannot afford to marry his girl friend because of the cost of a ring and Russell unexpectedly says that, if he is in love, money is unimportant. When Frazier threatens to have the ESU storm the building and arrest him, Russell says he will walk out the door when he is ready. Impulsively, Frazier tackles Russell, but is interrupted at gunpoint by Steve-O. Because Russell did not retaliate, Frazier later tells Mitchell that Russell is not violent, but then, through a second floor window, they see a hostage shot through the head. Frazier demands that Russell say what it is he really wants, but Russell answers that the detective is "too smart to be a cop." Displeased by Frazier's performance, Coughlin now places Darius in charge and, relieved of responsibility, Frazier chats with Collins, whose casual comment prompts him to realize that Russell has been listening in to their plans via a recording device contained within the box attached to Vikram when he was released. As the ESU prepares to break into the building, Russell's people briskly herd the hostages toward the front door. After bursting it open with explosives, they blend into the group, although Russell is not among them. Outside, the police roughly corral and handcuff the hostages, and then bus them to the station, where they are interrogated. Inside the bank, the ESU finds no one, living or dead, no booby-traps and no evidence of a robbery. Instead, they find the white coveralls with fake blood and toy guns, and conclude that the perpetrators have taken refuge among the hostages and that the murder was faked. After the interrogations, when Frazier reports that the hostages were unable to identify their captives, Coughlin says to "bury" the case, because, having neither evidence of a robbery nor major injuries, no one is pressuring him to solve it. Dissatisfied, Frazier and Mitchell cannot stop thinking about the case and eventually notice a discrepancy in the bank's safe-deposit box inventories, which list boxes numbered 391 and 393, but not 392. Without drawing attention to her actions, White restores Frazier's reputation by arranging for the missing drug money to be found and sets in motion his promotion. Regarding the mystery of the deposit box, she suggests to Frazier that many Fortune 500 executives have profited from chaotic times. However, when she informs Case that he will have to pay blackmailers to regain the document containing his secret, she also confronts him about his alliance with the Nazis. He confides that he betrayed a close friend and has since tried to compensate for that and other sins through philanthropic deeds. Instead of being indignant, White jokes that she is currently funding a co-op for the nephew of Osama bin Laden. About a week later, Russell, in disguise, emerges from his hiding place, a small cell behind a wall in the bank storage room where the robbers had been digging. Crossing paths with Frazier and Mitchell in the lobby, he bumps into Frazier, who does not recognize him, and they make brief apologies. Outside, when Russell reunites with his four accomplices, he has most of box 392's contents, but not the ring, and tells his partners that the ring is "in good hands." Later, armed with a search warrant, Frazier and Mitchell discover box 392 contains the ring, gum wrappers and a note, reading: "Follow the ring." Presuming a connection between Case and the box, they inform Case they will look into the ring's history. Frazier tells White and the mayor that the ring was connected to a wealthy Jew who died in a concentration camp and indicates that he is communicating with the War Crimes Unit. Approvingly, White offers to get Frazier coverage on the front page of the New York Times . Later, when he is with Sylvia, Frazier finds a large diamond in his pocket and smiles as he realizes that Russell slipped it in there, as he bumped into him walking out the bank's door.