Smith is a man on the run, running from a broken marriage. Accidentally caught between two powers - a repressive Government and a violent resistance movement - he becomes a man alone...hunted and hostile, driven by the will to survive.
A state of political unrest prevails in New Zealand - with strikes, riots and rationing. The Prime Minister has set up an anti-terrorist force of "Specials" - supposedly to restore law and order.
Smith (SAM NEILL) is too busy with his domestic problems to worry about the state of the nation. When his wife has an affair with Bullen (IAN MUNE), he leaves the city for remote seaside town. He wants to retreat from his problems and from society, and when he sees a tiny, uninhabited island off the coast, he rents it from its Maori owners, and begins an idyllic life, fishing and gardening.
Political strife worsens on the mainland. A state of emergency and martial law are created, under false pretences. The Prime Minister becomes a virtual dictator. Smith becomes unwittingly involved in the unrest when the "Specials" find an arms cache hidden on his island. He is arrested, then taken back to the mainland, and thrown into prison.
The head of the secret police visits him in the prison cell, and offers to pardon him from a death sentence if he'll confess to revolutionary activities. En route to the television studios for his "confession", Smith escapes, and goes into hiding at a seedy country motel.
The Bullen arrives. He's now a revolutionary, and hes asks Smith to join the rebels. Smith resists - till an American army detachment led by Willoughby (WARREN OATES) arrives to search out guerillas. Smith agrees to sound an alarm which leads to the massacre of the soldiers. Smith, by now a reluctant bu panic-stricken revolutionary, is visited by his wife, who has joined the resistance. They spend the night together, and Smith then leaves with Bullen - but they are caught by the "Specials", and escape only after a shooting exchange.
By now they are really on the run. The head of the secret service takes personal charge of the hunt for them. Their camp is attacked by Skyhawks, and Bullen is seriously wounded. Smith helps him to trek across the mountains to the coast - and during this epic voyage Smith at last becomes the leader, providing the strength and determination which they need to keep going to the destination.
They make it - against all odds, but the secret service searchers have discovered them. The conclusion is inevitable, but Smith and Bullen win an emotional victory over Jesperson.