A Simple Plan (1998)

A Simple Plan (1998)
  • Time: 121 min
  • Genre: Crime | Drama | Thriller
  • Director: Sam Raimi
  • Cast: Bill Paxton, Billy Bob Thornton, Bridget Fonda


When Hank, Jacob and Lou find $4.4 million inside a crashed plane in a nature preserve, they quickly come up with the plan to keep the money safe until the plane has been found by others and the dust has settled. But Jacob, Hank’s brother, and Lou, a friend, do not behave the way they decided to. Lou, constantly in financial debt, wants his share soon and Jacob wishes to renovate their parents’ farm. The trusty atmosphere between the unequal partners dissolves slowly, and intrigues are spun. Also, accidents start happening and when an FBI agent comes into town, looking for a crashed plane, Hank and his partners get into very deep water…

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  • It was always a hot property and, in the past six years since Scott B. Smith adapted his best-selling novel A Simple Plan for the screen, directors such as Mike Nichols, John Boorman and Ben Stiller made aborted attempts to bring it to the screen. Director John Dahl, at one point, seemed the perfect choice for this blanc noir. But, ultimately, it was Sam Raimi who calmed his trademark kamikaze camera style and brought forth a precious gem of a film.

    There’s treasure to be found in this stark psychological thriller. Literally. Two brothers, Jacob (Billy Bob Thornton, who evolves from caricature to candescent) and Hank (Bill Paxton), and Jacob’s friend Lou (Brent Briscoe) stumble upon exactly $4.4 million in a crashed plane. And so begins this snowbound morality tale that recalls Erich Von Stroheim’s Greed and John Huston’s The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. Lou is gung-ho to keep the money and Jacob, who strikes one as a dim, slow-witted fellow, agrees. Hank, though, isn’t too certain; he wants to turn the money to the police — it’s the right thing to do. Sure he wants the money — he works at the mill but his wages aren’t that high and he and his wife Sarah (Bridget Fonda) are about to have an extra mouth to feed. “You work for the American Dream,” he explains, “you don’t steal it.” Still, $4.4 million is an awful lot of money. So Hank makes a proposal: he’ll stow away the money until spring when the melted snow will reveal the plane. If no one claims the money, if no one even mentions it, then they’ll split it and leave town. Everyone agrees and from that moment on, the trust begins to deteriorate. They may be simple men with a simple plan but nothing’s simple where $4.4 million is involved.

    The first sign of trouble, surprisingly, is Sarah. Hank asks her what she would do if she found a bag full of money. She wouldn’t take it, she blithely replies. Then she sees the money and the mousy librarian turns Lady Macbeth. What ensues can all be traced back to her efforts to protect her husband and child. Sarah is a perfect example of the joy of Smith’s morality tale. There is no definitive right and wrong or good guy or bad guy. With every thing that goes awry, with each body that turns up dead, everyone’s code of morals shifts. Does one good motivation blanket the less admirable reasons or is each action judged on its own merit? Another fascinating aspect is the pyramid of power that forms: Sarah controls Hank who controls Jacob who controls Lou. The most cunning will have the weakest link done away with.

    Raimi does an extraordinary job not only maintaining the tension throughout the film but also in little moments where he amps it up until the suspense is nailbiting. The movie will most likely elicit comparisons to Fargo, another film in which a Midwestern town secretes a latent violence. But you may as well compare it to Blue Velvet or Peyton Place, other films where the dark side of Americana is shown. A comparison to Fargo only serves to diminish A Simple Plan’s achievements. A Simple Plan works on a completely different level — quite frankly, a more superior one and its less wink-wink tone allows a more resonant connection with its characters, whose flaws are all too human.

    The casting is flawless. Paxton delivers his best performance yet. It takes a good man to brave costars that are digitally created but when you give him something to sink his teeth in, boy does he bite! The secret to his appeal, especially in this film, is that he has the bearing of a good old Midwesterner who was raised with the right values, but Paxton is also capable of conveying immense reserves of ambiguity. He provides the dark heart to the face of an aw-shucks American.

    Fonda is equally impressive. This is an actress long overdue for major stardom but why complain if she keeps surfacing in and illuminating interesting characters. There’s a wonderful monologue Fonda delivers when Hank has thoughts of returning all of the money. Think of the baby, she reasons, and think of her. She doesn’t want to put on a happy face eight hours a day for the rest of her life. When the film mirror its opening sequence by showing Hank and Sarah at their jobs, you see exactly what she means. What looked to be the picture of hardworking contentment has deadened into bitter routine.

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