Corona, Queens in the mid- to late-1900s was a place where law-abiding families co-existed with Families of a different nature. The Made men of the neighborhood received as much admiration and respect as the average working class because they were loyal to their employees, and their employees were certainly loyal to them. In many cases they donated time and money to benefit the neighborhood. But the average person didn't ask a Made man what he did for a living, because he already knew, and in case the question was actually answered, it could make him an accessory.
Frankie Tancredi ran two very successful enterprises during that time and employed many local men who in turn supported their respective families in style. However, there was no overlapping of his two operations; you either worked in his four-star restaurant or you were a member of one of his crews and worked for the Family. Frankie wore two hats, but never both at the same time.
Santo Cavelli and Vinnie Calzaretta were born in the sixties and had known each other for so long they couldn't remember when they first met, they were always close friends, almost brothers. Growing up in this neighborhood gave the two a familiarity with Made men and police officers, since both lived there. They were heavily involved with Frankie's second, unspoken enterprise, rising from simple numbers-running and taking bets on behalf of the Family, to rearranging the kneecaps of deadbeats and other muscle work. The money was good and the girls plentiful, as long as you had the money. This beat sweeping up in a pizzeria all day.
Santo's non-mob friends have some influence on him and he starts to question what he is doing with his late teen and early adult life. So when a bullet whizzes past him, courtesy of a rival gang member, he realizes he has to get into another line of work because the retirement plan of his current occupation is not so nice. In a quirk of fate, especially for a Corona tough-guy, Santo enters the police academy and rises through the ranks, eventually becoming a decorated Detective First Grade doing undercover work in both Vice and Narcotics and becoming a star of the NYPD. He enjoys this life and feels like he is making a difference for society. Still living in Corona, he occasionally sees his contemporaries but now is careful about socializing with them.
Vinnie Calzaretta also rises in his chosen field eventually achieving his personal goal of becoming a Made man. He marries his childhood sweetheart and they raise a family in Corona. The boyhood friends rarely speak to each other and even then, only when they accidentally happen to be in the same place at the same time. Those moments are very strained for both as their old friendship and present occupations prevent them from getting too involved in each other's current life.
Santo enjoys being an undercover police officer, the danger is an aphrodisiac, but the endless wave of drug dealers and killers starts to take its toll and he is reverting back to the edgy person he was when he worked as a member of Tancredi's crew.
In his mid-thirties, he meets the girl of his dreams after thinking that he would be single for his entire life. They fall madly in love and plan a life together. But tragedy strikes when in one of those chance meetings with characters of his shady past, his future wife gets shot in a cross-fire by one of Vinnie's thugs.
In the following months, Santo goes into a deep depression but when he regains his senses, he slowly reverts back to his teenage persona and becomes a hard-edged vigilante bent on retribution. Santo spends the next few months tracking Vinnie's movements and meets Vinnie in a secluded place. Both are armed, both are angry, and both will do what ever they have to do to live.
The boyhood bonds are strong, but faltering.