Movie and Film Reviews (MFR) Drama A Simple Plan (1998)

A Simple Plan (1998)

Directed by Sam Raimi

Cast: Bill Paxton, Billy Bob Thornton, Bridget Fonda

Knowing that this is a Sam Raimi film, you would be forgiven for thinking that you were about to see flying eyeballs and zombies rampaging across the screen. A Simple Plan couldn’t be any more different.

Adapted by Scott B. Smith from his own novel (he was nominated for an oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay), Raimi has crafted an intelligent and often unsettling film focusing on the lives of Hank and Sarah Mitchell, played by Bill Paxton and Bridget Fonda, and Hank’s estranged and dim-witted brother, Jacob (Billy Bob Thornton). Hank works at the town’s feed store and Sarah has a job at the library. They are expecting their first baby any day and they couldn’t be any happier,  however, Jacob is unemployed and survives doing odd jobs around town. Hank and Jacob are making their yearly pilgrimage to their father’s grave. Along for the ride is Jacob’s best friend Lou, who his, in his own words, the town drunk. Jacob has also brought along his pet dog, Mary-Beth. As they are ploughing along snowy roads next to the forest, a fox darts out and makes Jacob swerve his pick-up into a tree. Mary-Beth takes off after the fox and the three guys follow.

Hank and Jacob have an uneasy relationship that stems from the fact that Hank went to college while Jacob has struggled to survive in the small town that they have lived in all their lives. While arguing trying to locate Jacob’s dog, they stumble across a downed aeroplane in the woods. After a look inside they find a huge bag stuffed full of money. Hank immediately wants to do the right thing and hand it in to the police, but Jacob and Lou convince him otherwise. They eventually count the money and find that they have $4.4 million. They decide to keep the money until they can determine whether or not anybody is looking for it, under the condition that Hank gets to look after it.

What follows is an intricate study of how ‘Good People’ can succumb to the allure of greed and empty promises. Hank and Sarah are perfectly happy as they are but once they soon start to see another life that they could lead with the help of their new found wind-fall, events quickly get out of hand and slowly escalate, largely affected by Bridget Fonda’s character Sarah. She gives a captivating performance as Hank’s wife. She sees the money as both her way out of her dead end job at the library and as a way to escape the small town and start a new life with the Hank and the baby. She tries to orchestrate Hank’s control of the money and asks Hank to return some of the bundles of cash to the plane in case the wreck is found after the snow has melted in the spring. If the authorities are looking for it, then they will assume that the money inside was all there was initially.

This is the ‘Simple Plan’ that turns the lives of the protagonists upside down.  Before we know it, mild-mannered Hank is killing a local farmer who stumbles on both him and Jacob near the plane crash, for fear that the crash site might be discovered. They make it look like an accidental death but Jacob tells Lou who begins to blackmail Hank into giving him his share of the cash.  More deaths follow and eventually Hank has to make the most painful choice of all.

A pivotal aspect of the story is the relationship between Hank and Jacob and how the events of the film high-light how little they really know about each other’s lives.Billy Bob Thornton portrays Jacob brilliantly as a shy, socially awkward loner who is bitter towards his brother’s success. Hank is confident in his happiness and his position in life but as he gets awkwardly closer to Jacob, we find that Jacob has secrets of his own that could threaten all that Hank knows about their father’s death. Danny Elfman lends a quirky score to the film which underlines the tension that Raimi slowly ratchets up during the last third of the movie, as Hank’s desperate attempts to cover up his crimes take him to the edge of his sanity.
(Notice how Raimi uses the crows in the woods as sinister observers to the protagonist’s actions. They almost seem like portents of doom.)

The movie itself was a critical success, although it failed to set the box office on fire in the US. It was made on a budget of $17 million but grossed just over $16 million domestically. I would definitely recommend this movie as one of the best dramas of the nineties. Great writing and great acting, all under the watchful eye of a director in his prime.

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