A Simple Plan is a 1998 drama film directed by Sam Raimi, based on the novel of the same name by Scott Smith, who also wrote the screenplay of the film. It was shot in Delano, Minnesota; Ashland, Wisconsin; and Saxon, Wisconsin. Billy Bob Thornton was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. Scott B. Smith was nominated for the Academy Award for Writing Adapted Screenplay.
Several prominent critics praised the film for its complexity and taut suspense (four stars from Roger Ebert and Critic's Choice from The New York Times).
Hank Mitchell (Bill Paxton) and his pregnant wife, Sarah (Bridget Fonda), live a quiet but happy life in rural Minnesota. Hank, one of the town's few residents to graduate from college, works in a feed mill, while his wife is a librarian. Hank's brother, Jacob (Billy Bob Thornton), is a dim-witted but good-hearted fellow. The story begins with Hank, Jacob, and Jacob's friend, Lou, chasing a fox into the woods. They lose the fox, but find a downed airplane that appeared to have crashed in the area some time previously. After some investigation, they see the pilot is long dead, and the only cargo is a bag full of unmarked bills totaling $4.4 million.
Hank suggests turning the money in, but is persuaded not to by Jacob and Lou. Hank's condition is that he keep the money safe at his house and no one spends anything until winter ends and everyone moves away when they divvy up the cash. All agree to keep the discovery a secret. When they return to their vehicle, Carl, the sheriff, appears and Hank nervously talks to him while Jacob unwisely mentions hearing a plane in the area. Hank reveals the discovery to his wife, who is overjoyed at the news.
Things start to unravel quickly. When Hank and Jacob return to the plane to put some of the money back as part of a larger plan to avoid suspicion, they come across an old man on a snowmobile. Jacob, thinking their cover is blown, bludgeons the man. When the man regains consciousness and asks for the police, Hank suffocates him and makes it look like an accidental death. Jacob reneges on his promise to move away during the summer, and tells of his intention to buy his father's farm with his share of the money. Lou drunkenly demands some of the money from Hank, saying that he has spent recklessly since the discovery and needs cash fast. Hank refuses, and Lou threatens to tell the authorities about the old man's death. Hank and Jacob team up against Lou to make sure he will not reveal the old man's murder. Lou, drunk and enraged that the two conspired against him, pulls a gun. Jacob kills Lou to save his brother, and then Hank kills Lou's wife when she appears firing another gun. Hank concocts a plan as to what to tell the cops to avoid arrest. The plan works, thanks to Hank's solid reputation in the community and Jacob's rehearsed speech to the police. Jacob tells Hank that this whole turn of events is wearing on him and that he "feels evil".
Later, the sheriff calls Hank and tells him that the FBI has arrived, looking for a downed plane that may have crashed in the area. Because Jacob mentioned a plane earlier, the sheriff asks the brothers to assist in the search through the woods. Sarah is immediately skeptical and discovers that the FBI man is actually involved with the money and is looking for his lost cash. Hank still goes with him in order to protect Carl, he brings a gun with him just in case. Then the sheriff, the FBI man, Hank and Jacob head into the woods. They find the plane, and Hank's worst fears are confirmed when the FBI man pulls a gun and kills the sheriff, revealing that he is looking for the lost money, and not with the FBI. Jacob and Hank manage to get the drop on the man, and Hank kills him. Hank starts to concoct another story to tell the authorities, but Jacob announces he doesn't want to live with these bad memories, and will shoot himself to end it. He encourages Hank to kill him instead and frame the FBI man, so that Hank can still tell any story he wants. After grappling with the decision, Hank kills Jacob, and starts sobbing.
At the police station, Hank tells his story to real FBI agents. As Sarah had predicted, no one would believe that this upstanding member of the community could be capable of such wrongdoing, and he is cleared of any crime. But he gets some unexpected bad news. The money in the plane is actually ransom money paid to kidnappers, and before it was delivered, many of the bills' serial numbers were written down to track the cash and find whoever was using it. Hank realizes everything was for nothing, as he cannot use even one hundred dollar bill without fear of being caught. He goes home and burns all the money, with his wife struggling to stop him. Later, we see Hank and Sarah living the same lives they started with, but with Hank reflecting on their profound losses.
NOTE: You might need to watch this movie again in the future. Make sure to include A Simple Plan in your movie collection.
Cast overview, first billed only:
Bill Paxton ... Hank
Bridget Fonda ... Sarah
Billy Bob Thornton ... Jacob
Brent Briscoe ... Lou
Jack Walsh ... Tom Butler
Chelcie Ross ... Carl
Becky Ann Baker ... Nancy Chambers
Gary Cole ... Baxter
Bob Davis ... FBI Agent Renkins
Peter Syvertsen ... FBI Agent Freemont
Tom Carey ... Dwight Stephanson
John Paxton ... Mr. Schmitt
Marie Mathay ... News Reporter
Paul Magers ... Anchorman
Joan Steffand ... Anchorwoman
Directed by Sam Raimi
Produced by James Jacks
Written by Scott Smith