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Film / A Simple Plan

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A Simple Plan is a 1998 Neo-Noir thriller film directed by Sam Raimi, starring Bill Paxton, Billy Bob Thornton, and Bridget Fonda. It is based on the novel of the same name by Scott Smith, who also wrote the screenplay.

Hank Mitchell (Paxton) and his pregnant wife, Sarah (Fonda), live in rural Minnesota. Hank, one of the town's few college graduates, works in a feed mill, while his wife is a librarian. Hank's brother, Jacob (Thornton), is a dim-witted but good-hearted fellow. The story begins with Hank, Jacob, and Jacob's friend, Lou (Briscoe), chasing a fox into the woods, where they find a crashed airplane. The pilot is dead and the only cargo is a bag full of money totaling $4.4 million. The three decide to take the money and hide it for six months, enough time to see if anyone is looking for it. Of course, this simple plan unravels over that time, and everyone comes to regret ever finding the money.


This film provides examples of

  • The Alcoholic: Lou, the drunken friend who kickstarts the conflict.
  • Both Sides Have a Point: Sarah wants Hank to take the money because she's tired of living poor and unable to afford what they would consider luxuries that are considered trivial matters to middle-class and above people. Hank, of course, is reluctant about doing it because one, he didn't get this money honestly, and two, he doesn't want to get caught by the feds. In the end, Hank is right about the feds going after them if they did use the money.
  • Cain and Abel: Hank kills Jacob after they discuss it as something necessary.
  • Dirty Cop: It turns out the alleged FBI Agent Baxter is after the money too.
  • Double Meaning: When Hank gives Baxter the money that was left in the plane to distract him while he pulls a gun out on him, Baxter quips "So you had a piece, eh?", which can either mean he was surprised that Hank had a gun and/or realized that Hank kept some of the money for himself.
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  • Downer Ending: Hank kills Jacob because the latter doesn't want to live with the guilt of his and his brother's crimes. Dually, Hank learns from real FBI agents that the money from the plane is marked, meaning he can't use any of it without the FBI learning he stole it; subsequently, Hank burns the money — much to his wife's chagrin. Ultimately, taking the money cost him the life of his brother, caused the deaths of five other people, and cursed him with the guilt of sins to which he can't confess without jeopardizing the future of his wife and daughter, and left him with absolutely nothing to show for it.
  • Down on the Farm: Hank lives on rural Minnesota and is one of the few college graduates of his town. Jacob wants to buy a farm with his share, but Hank thinks he is being ridiculous, as neither of them know anything about farming.
  • Expy: Gary Cole as Agent Baxter is Lucas Buck in a different branch of law enforcement. Eventually subverted — he's an expy of DB Cooper, even looking like the famous robber.
  • FBI Agent: Agent Baxter shows up when the local sheriff seeks out help from the Bureau. Hank is debriefed by Renkins and Freemont later.
  • The Film of the Book: An adaptation of the novel of the same name by Scott Smith.
  • Gold Fever: Two brothers find a downed airplane with a dead pilot and 4.4 million dollars and attempt to keep the feds from finding the money. Greed and crime ensue.
  • Greed: Pretty much every main character's Fatal Flaw in this movie. The main characters could have avoided a hell of a lot of trouble and misery had they just been honest about finding the plane crash and turned their back on the money.
  • Guilt-Ridden Accomplice: Jacob eventually begins to crack.
  • He Knows Too Much: The old man on the snowmobile who comes across the protagonists at the worst possible time.
  • Hereditary Suicide: Jacob reveals to Hank that the drunken accident that killed their father was actually a suicide, in a desperate attempt to get money for Hank's education. After their plan for the money unravels, Jacob can't live with himself and tells Hank that he'll kill himself and implicate everybody in the theft unless Hank kills him instead. So Hank does that.
  • Hot Librarian: Sarah is a librarian played by Bridget Fonda.
  • Plot-Triggering Death: The dead pilot who was carrying the 4.4 million dollars.
  • Pre-Mortem One-Liner:
    Baxter: You're not the cold-blooded type, are you, Mr. Mitchell? [slowly pulls out gun] I guess we both got a lot of explaining to do.
    Hank: No, just me. [Boom, Headshot!]
  • Shoot the Shaggy Dog Story: The money is marked and has to be burnt.
  • A Simple Plan: Played straight: what starts as a plan to split up a huge sack of money found in the woods ends up leaving a trail of bodies, including two of the three guys who found the money, and at the end of it all, the money is marked anyway, and has to be burnt.
  • Snow Means Death: Among several other things. Death and snowy landscapes are seamlessly mixed.
  • Stealing from Thieves: The film explores this trope and its many, many drawbacks.
  • Thicker Than Water: Hank is very protective of Jacob. But it's ultimately subverted.
  • Think of the Children!: While urging Hank to take the money, Sarah pulls this card on him, telling him that she doesn't want their daughter to grow up with hand-me-downs.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Sheriff Carl Jenkins assumes that Neil Baxter is an FBI agent without asking to see his badge. This is lampshaded comically as Hank searches for ammunition to the sheriff's gun amongst his disorganized desk.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Their dog is with Jacob after Baxter and Carl are killed, but it's nowhere to be seen after Jacob dies.
  • Wham Line: Jacob has a couple of these lines to Hank throughout the movie.
    • Revealing to Hank that their father losing the farm was not because he was a bad businessman, but because he was paying for Hank's college.
    • Telling Hank that their father's death was really a suicide.