At the end of the last century a tyrant wreaks havoc in the South American country of Costaguana. He encourages the peasants to rise up and kill their European masters. Ernest Gould, an Englishman and owner of the San Tome silver mine, is murdered and his mine destroyed.
Ten years later the tyrant is gone and stability restored. Ernest Gould's son, Charles (Colin Firth) arrives in Costaguana's port city of Sulaco accompanied by his young bride, Emilia (Serena Scott Thomas). He plans to reopen the mine with the backing of American entrepreneur Mr. Holroyd (Brian Dennehy). Both men hope to see untold riches emerge from the revitalized enterprise...
...And they do, initiating a shining era of prosperity and progress in Costaguana. For local aristocrat Don Jose Avellanos (Fernando Hilbeck), the silver signals a bright future for his people and for his proud daughter, Antonia (Ruth Gabriel).
For Nostromo (Claudio Amendola), the incorruptible head of the local dockworkers, a viable mine means steady employment for his men, enabling him to honor his promise to innkeeper Teresa Viola (Claudia Cardinale) that he will marry her eldest daughter and look after her youngest.
But for Dr. Monygham (Albert Finney), the cynical survivor of years of brutal tyranny, the return of the silver can only mean a new cycle of corruption and violence, a belief that proves prophetic as Costaguana erupts in civil war initiated by rival warlords determined to seize the mine and its riches.
In desperation, Charles turns to the only man who can save the mine's treasure -- Nostromo. As the opposing forces come ever closer to Sulaco, under the command of treacherous Colonel Sotillo (Joaquim De Almeida), Nostromo sets out to sea with an enormous amount of silver to stop it from falling into the hands of the fighters. Martin Decoud (Lothaire Bluteau), death-listed for being the outspoken editor of the local newspaper, also joins Nostromo on his dangerous journey into the unknown.
But the silver carries a curse. And when Nostromo returns to Sulaco as the heroic savior of his country, he is burdened by guilt and a terrible secret which forever alters the fates of everyone touched and tainted by the silver mine.
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