Three criminals, Ray, Pluto and Fantasia (Ray's girlfriend), commit six brutal murders over the course of one night in Los Angeles as they seek a cache of money and cocaine. The trio leave for Houston to sell the cocaine to a friend of Pluto's.
The LAPD Detectives Cole and McFeely are investigating the case. After getting a few leads, they discover that the three are possibly headed for Star City, Arkansas. The LAPD contacts the Star City police chief, Dale "Hurricane" Dixon, who is excited about the case, as it gives him an opportunity to do "some real police work". He is well-known throughout the small county, chatting with locals while on patrol. The detectives fly to Star City and meet Dixon. He attempts to ingratiate himself with the detectives, whom he reveres, while they pretend to respect him.
After stopping at a convenience store, a state trooper pulls over and attempts to arrest Ray and Pluto but Fantasia kills him as she is asked to get out of the car. Word of the trooper's murder gets to the detectives in Star City, and the trio review surveillance photos of Ray and Fantasia in the store confirming their identity. Dixon informs the detectives that Fantasia is Lila Walker and she grew up in Star City. He recalls she was a troubled youth who left for Hollywood with dreams of an acting career.
The detectives sense Dixon may know Fantasia better than he is letting on after they stop by her mother's house. They question Fantasia's mother and brother Ronnie about Fantasia's whereabouts and if she had contacted them recently. They also meet a young boy who is revealed to be Lila's young son. The detectives suspect that Lila will be coming home to see him.
Ray, Fantasia and Pluto arrive in Houston to sell the drugs as planned. Fantasia takes a bus to Star City. Angry that their buyers are reneging on the previously agreed upon price for the cocaine, Pluto and Ray kill them and flee. They drive to Star City to meet up with Fantasia and plan their next move.
When Fantasia arrives in Star City, she hides at a rural house. Dixon confronts her, and it is revealed that the boy is Dixon and Lila's son, conceived during an affair years earlier. After tense conversation, they make a deal. She will lure Ray and Pluto to ensure their arrest and in exchange, Dixon will help her leave town.
Pluto and Ray arrive at the house and are immediately confronted by an armed Dixon. Pluto stabs Dixon in the stomach and Dixon shoots Pluto. Ray draws his gun and runs outside while shooting at Dixon. The two fire at each other, but Fantasia stops Dixon from killing Ray, only to have Ray errantly shoot her in the head. Shot in the chest, Dixon steadies himself and shoots Ray, killing him. Pluto walks outside and falls dead in the grass. Dixon calls for help with his police radio, and the LAPD detectives arrive, amazed at what Dixon has accomplished. The boy walks over and talks to Dixon as he lies bleeding, and he asks the boy to tell him about himself.Bill Paxton as Dale "Hurricane" Dixon
Billy Bob Thornton as Ray Malcolm
Cynda Williams as Lila "Fantasia" Walker
Michael Beach as Lenny "Pluto" Franklin
Jim Metzler as Dud Cole
Earl Billings as John McFeely
Jimmy Bridges as Bobby
One False Move has a score of 98% "Fresh" on Rotten Tomatoes based on 45 reviews. Hal Hinson, writing for The Washington Post July 18, 1992, praised the film: "'One False Move' is a thriller with a hair-trigger sense of tension. Directed by newcomer Carl Franklin, its power comes from the stripped-down simplicity of its style and the unblinking savagery of its violence." Film critic Roger Ebert praised the film's director in his review: "It is a powerful directing job. He starts with an extraordinary screenplay and then finds the right tones and moods for every scene, realizing it's not the plot we care about, it’s the people." The film was nominated for the Grand Prix of the Belgian Syndicate of Cinema Critics.