1948. When a priest suddenly dies of a heart attack while allegedly being serviced by a prostitute, Los Angeles detective Tom Spellacy (Robert Duvall) is assigned to investigate. In a conflicting twist, Tom's brother, who is a young Catholic monsignor Des Spellacy (Robert De Niro), is reluctantly currying favor with crooked contractor Jack Amsterdam (Charles Durning), in an effort to expand the church. It turns out that the unifying factor between the brothers is the grisly murder of a hooker. As things get more than messy they both find that the key words in this puzzle are power, ambition, and hypocrisy.