Bull Meechum (Robert Duvall) is a great Marine pilot and a lousy father. A warrior between wars, Bull treats his four children like Marine recruits. When things are going Bull's way, life is good. When they're not, he's a cheater, liar, bully and sore loser. As his oldest son, Ben (Michael O'Keefe), approaches his 18th birthday, Bull feels his advantage slipping. His abusive behavior escalates. Despite this, Ben craves his father's approval, and 15-year-old Mary Anne (Lisa Jane Persky) humorously seeks his attention. Ben alternates between loving his father and wishing him dead. But Ben has never defied Bull, even when following Bull's orders harmed him. Only when his friend Toomer (Stan Shaw) is in danger does Ben stand up to his father. Then it's love and war on the home front.