William Blake (Johnny Depp), an accountant from Cleveland, Ohio, rides by train to the frontier company town of Machine to take up a promised accounting job in the town's metal works. During the trip, the train Fireman (Crispin Glover) warns Blake against the enterprise. Arriving in town, Blake discovers that the position has already been filled, and he is driven from the workplace at gunpoint by John Dickinson, the ferocious owner of the company. Jobless and without money or prospects, Blake meets Thel Russell (Mili Avital), a former prostitute who sells paper flowers. He lets her take him home. Thel's ex-boyfriend Charlie surprises them in bed and shoots at Blake, accidentally killing Thel when she tries to shield Blake with her body. The bullet passes through Thel and wounds Blake, but he is able to kill Charlie using Thel's gun before dazedly climbing out the window and fleeing the town on Charlie's horse. Company-owner Dickinson is Charlie's father, and he hires three legendary frontier killers, Cole Wilson, Conway Twill, and Johnny "The Kid" Pickett to bring Blake back 'dead or alive'.