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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 (Brent 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, is never without a drink.
  • And Then What?: Lou tries to blackmail Hank into giving him his share (or at least a part) immediately. He threatens to reveal Hank killed a man. Hank Lampshades that if Lou were to do this he would implicate himself. Lou immediately folds and becomes quickly pathetic as he states he is in massive debt and needs the money.
  • Armor-Piercing Question: Jacob asks Hank if he feels evil.
  • Bait-and-Switch: When Hank is interrogated by Sheriff Jenkins, the sheriff asks Hank to clarify one point. When Hank lies, Jenkins takes off his glasses and looks upset, implying that Hank has just unwittingly implicated himself. Shortly thereafter, Jenkins shows up at Hank's door looking upset and says, "I hate to do this to you, Hank..." implying that he's there to arrest Hank. But then it's revealed that Jenkins is just there to drop off Jacob, who is too drunk to drive home.
  • Blown Across the Room: Nancy gets blown against the kitchen sink window when shot with a shotgun. This is one of Sam Raimi's few stylistic embellishments.
  • But for Me, It Was Tuesday: While out in the woods, Lou recalls Hank using an overly fancy word and accuses him of rubbing his fancy education in Lou's face. Hank remarks that that conversation happened over two months ago and wonders why he's still thinking about it.
  • Cain and Abel: Hank kills Jacob after they discuss it as something necessary.
  • Creepy Crows: There are crows all around the crashed plane, representing the evil that it holds. One even attacks Hank.
  • Deconstructed Character Archetype: Pretty much every character seems at first glance to be a very familiar archetype before more and more revealing a mixture of Hidden Depths and darker aspects of their personalities that had never surfaced.
    • Sarah of the typical loving suburban housewife. She actually is much more calculated, greedy, and cold-blooded than you would expect.
    • Hank of the good natured Norman Rockwell-like suburban father. He seems like a principled and decent man. But he is capable of more evil than anyone expected.
    • Jacob seems like your typical slack-jawed imbecile, but he frequently shows more insight than Hank.
  • 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.
  • 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, destroyed his marriage, caused the deaths of five other people, 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.
  • Dumbass Has a Point: Jacob is undeniably dumb, but he makes surprisingly cogent deductions throughout the film, such as noting that the fake "flat tire" needs to have the air removed. The biggest example is when he reveals to his flabbergasted brother that their father committed suicide for the insurance money to pay for Hank's schooling.
  • Establishing Character Moment: Hank is introduced working extra time to cover for a coworker, meekly requesting time off from his boss, and joking with various members of town, establishing that he's a hard-working nice guy with a rather menial job.
  • 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.
  • For Want Of A Nail: Jacob swerves to avoid hitting a fox and crashes into a tree, leading to the discovery of the plane and bag of money. If not for the fox, the events of the film would not have happened.
  • Gold Fever: Two brothers find a downed airplane with a dead pilot and $4.4 million 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. While Jacob and Lou are both broke, Hank and Sarah initially state that they don't need any additional money and lead a perfectly satisfying life. When the thought of riches tempts them, however, they are all willing to do terrible things to keep it.
  • 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.
  • Hidden Disdain Reveal:
    • As Hank and Jacob get Lou incredibly drunk, Jacob and Lou both ridicule Hank and reveal just how much the two of them have always hated his behavior and intelligence. Hank looks as hurt as he is angered by this revelation. Though given that it was part of Jacob's plan, it's up in the air how earnest he was in ridiculing his own brother.
    • Hank cheerfully states how much he loves his life. Sarah, however, later reveals in a bid to stop Hank from destroying the money, says that she'll be unable to return to the lower-middle-class life she shares with the under-employed Hank. It's not clear whether she was really unhappy before or if a glimpse at riches has left her disdainful of him and their humble lifestyle.
  • Hot Librarian: Sarah is a librarian played by Bridget Fonda.
  • Indy Ploy: Hank must resort to a few of these when things get out of hand, such as the way he plays off Lou and Nancy's deaths.
  • Innocently Insensitive: Sarah tries to ease Hank's nerves by assuring him that no one will suspect him of the murders he committed because no one could imagine he's capable of that. It just aggravates Hank's guilt.
  • Lady Macbeth: Sarah plays this role for Hank, spurring him ever more ruthless actions against the other conspirators.
  • Make It Look Like an Accident: Hank suffocates a man who knows too much and makes it look like an accidental death.
  • Plethora of Mistakes: The simple plan unravels due to a series of mistakes.
  • Plot-Triggering Death: The dead pilot who was carrying the $4.4 million.
  • 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. shoots him in the head
  • Shoot the Shaggy Dog Story: It turns out that the money is being traced by the FBI, meaning that Hank can't spend it without drawing the government's attention.
  • 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 traceable 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.
  • Stepford Smiler: Sarah says that she doesn't want to live her life with a fake smile pretending to be satisfied with her humble lifestyle without the money.
  • Tempting Fate: Hank lists off the three things needed for personal happiness: a good job, a happy marriage, and friends. He's lost all but one of them because he takes the money, while gaining absolutely nothing.
  • Thicker Than Water: Hank is very protective of Jacob.
  • 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.
  • Toxic Friend Influence: Sarah continues to encourage Hank to continue to do awful things to keep the money. Every idea she throws ends up leading to people dying, as Hank points out.
  • 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.
  • What You Are in the Dark: Sarah pointedly states to Hank at one point that no one will believe that he was capable of the things he has done.
  • 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.
  • Women Are Wiser: Subverted. When Hank poses a hypothetical about finding the money, Sarah firmly insists that she'd do the ethical thing. When she's actually faced with the money, however, she instantly becomes a Lady Macbeth.