Saturday, 24 October 2015

A Simple Plan (4½ Stars)

After watching "The Gift" earlier today I thought I would watch another one of the films from the middle of Sam Raimi's career, between "Evil Dead" and "Spider-Man". "A Simple Plan", made in 1998, was higher rated by the critics and was even nominated for two Academy Awards, but it was a box office flop. (My personal definition of a flop is that it earns less than its budget at the box office). That's a shame. Maybe the film was too arty. It's a slow film in which very little happens, but the atmosphere is intense and overbearing.

It's the collapse of the American dream. Hank and Jacob are the two sons of a farmer in northern Minnesota. Isn't that the worst possible place to have a farm, a place where the ground is covered by ice and snow for months every year? A farm like that means hard work with very little to show for it. Hank, the younger son, is intelligent and capable of living a better life, so the farmer pays for him to go to college for four years. Hank returns home with a degree and gets a job in a grocery store. There's not much else to do in Minnesota. The cost of the college has bankrupted the farm, so the farmer kills himself. The older son Jacob is a failure in life and in love. He's never had a job, he's never kissed a girl. He just hangs out with his friend Lou, who is married but also unemployed.

One day in late December Hank, Jacob and Lou are in the woods hunting a fox that's been stealing chickens. They find a small plane covered by the snow. The pilot is dead, and there's a bag with four million dollars. Rather than report what they've found they take the money and leave the plane to be discovered when the snow melts in the spring. Hank says he'll keep the money, but not use it until they find out if anyone is looking for it. If the money is safe he'll split it with the two other men, if not he'll burn it.

So far so good. Is what they've done so evil? Technically, they're breaking the law, but is it so bad to take money from a dead man? He won't miss it. Apart from that, anyone who's carrying so much money is suspicious. He must be some sort of criminal. That's how they justify their actions. To be honest, if I found four million dollars in the woods I'd probably keep it as well. I wouldn't even feel guilty.

The problem is that there were three of them. If Hank alone had found the money he could have calmly taken it home and hidden it, not spending any of it until a few years later. The other two aren't so patient. Lou is in debt and wants a few thousand dollars to get out of trouble. Jacob wants money to buy back his father's farm. They both accuse Hank of wanting to keep all the money for himself, even though he has honest motives.

They become nervous, returning to the plane to check there are no problems. That's their first big mistake. They almost give themselves away, and they're forced to kill someone to keep their secret. From here on the situation escalates. More and more people die to prevent the money being found. The three men turn against one another in their greed. Despite promising that the secret would remain with them, Hank and Lou make the mistake of telling their wives about the money. The more people are involved, the more the simple plan becomes complicated by greed and deception.

In a way, I can understand why this film wasn't successful with the general public. It's too slow. Not much happens. Where are the big explosions and car chases? I've said it many times before, a film doesn't need an abundance of action to be good. Slow films can be good as well, if they're well made. "A Simple Plan" is a very well made film.


  1. A very solid film, if lacking that ingredient that makes it one to watch again and again. I do think Billy Bob Thornton can make some junk, but here he does very well.

    1. Today was only the second time I've watched this film, but for me it's definitely a film I can watch again.

      As for Billy Bob Thornton, the only other film I've seen him in is "Pushing Tin".


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