Release Date: January 22, 1999
Runtime: 121 minutes
Studio: Paramount Pictures
Director: Sam Raimi
Cast: Bill Paxton; Billy Bob Thornton; Bridget Fonda; Brent Briscoe; Gary Cole; Chelcie Ross; Becky Ann Baker; Jack Walsh
This is one of those “What would you do?” movies (another example would be Indecent Proposal, though this one is vastly superior). You know the setup: a group of seemingly simple and moral individuals are confronted with a pot of gold/pile of money/Pandora’s Box…choose your temptation, and must make a fateful decision that will test their characters. Of course, things do not go as planned, as they tend not to do in movies like this.
In the case of A Simple Plan, we are presented with three seemingly simple and moral men: feed store accountant, Hank (Bill Paxton), his feebleminded brother, Jacob (Billy Bob Thornton), and Jacob’s loutish friend, Lou (Brent Briscoe). After visiting the grave of Hank and Jacob’s father, the three men discover a crashed airplane deep in the snowy North American wilderness (movie was beautifully shot by Alar Kivilo in Minnesota and Wisconsin). The aforementioned fateful turn occurs when the trio unearths a bagful of cash, hidden in the crashed plane. Hank, the ostensibly level-headed one of the bunch, wants to immediately report the find to the police, while Lou is adamant that they keep the cash because, he figures, they could sure use it and, besides, who’s looking for it? It’s probably drug money, Lou surmises. Jacob essentially tails the popular opinion, which turns out to be that Hank will stash the money until such time that the three determine that no one is out looking for it. Once that determination is made, the three will divide up the money equally and split.
The rationale for keeping the money isn’t the hard part since everyone could use their cut: Hank is expecting a baby any day now with his wife, Sarah (Bridget Fonda); Jacob could finally purchase outright the family farm; and Lou just needs the cash to alleviate his dire financial straits. As is often the case with clandestine acts among a group of friends, the outside powers that be begin to poke around and ask questions. Once this happens, said group begins to seek ways to maintain their secret and distance themselves from such clandestine acts, often leading to extreme and/or violent measures that reveal the true nature of those involved.
Sam Raimi’s take on the morality play is an intriguing and effective tale about the lengths to which men will go to preserve a secret. Echoes of the Coen brothers’ Fargo are inevitable given the setting (the snowy American north) and plot, but surface comparisons aside, A Simple Plan provides its own pleasures for discerning moviegoers. The acting is uniformly excellent, with Paxton ably anchoring a cast of seasoned character actors (Thornton, Briscoe, Fonda, Gary Cole, Chelcie Ross, among others). The screenplay by Scott B. Smith, based on his novel of the same name, is taut and spare, keeping the viewer engaged and pondering how the story will resolve the fates of the characters.
A Simple Plan presents a scenario of consequences resulting from the decision one group of friends makes given a set of circumstances. When the film is over, the viewer is undoubtedly intended to ask him or herself, what would I do?
So, what would you do?