A SIMPLE PLAN was released by Paramount in the late ’90s when neo-noir was making a bit of a comeback. Set in Minnesota, and filmed there as well as in Wisconsin, it is best remembered for its wintery landscapes and its uniformly strong acting. Bill Paxton stars as lead character Hank Mitchell, a man who would like to get ahead in life just once. Bridget Fonda plays his money-hungry wife Sarah (the Lady Macbeth of the story). And featured as Paxton’s loser brother Jacob, who helps find some loot, is Billy Bob Thornton. Thornton was nominated for a supporting Oscar, and should have nabbed it.
The plot is quite simple. Hank and Jacob are out driving one day with Jacob’s friend Lou (Brent Briscoe), when they discover a deserted plane with a duffel bag that contains over four million dollars. They don’t know how the plane crashed in a snow-covered area or whose money it might have been. But if they just stay quiet, they might be able to keep the cash if nobody comes to claim it. That's easier said than done.
The guys take off with the dough and Hank puts it somewhere for safe keeping. But soon they decide, because of Sarah’s nagging, that they should cheat Lou out of his share. They go to Lou’s house, start drinking with him and do a little role play. Hank and Jacob want Lou to pretend he’s saying something self-incriminating. Jacob says it’s all in fun and after one too many beers, Lou does say it, which Hank secretly records on tape.
Their little game of pretend turns into a huge tragedy when Lou realizes he’s been tricked. He goes for his rifle, and threatens to kill Hank if he doesn’t turn over the tape. Jacob comes to Hank’s defense; there is a graphic shootout that leaves Lou dead on the floor, along with his wife. Hank and Jacob decide to shoot up the place even more and make it look like Lou lost his mind and killed his wife, then himself. Somehow the sheriff believes it all.
Things become even more complicated when an investigator (Gary Cole) shows up to locate the downed aircraft and retrieve the missing money. It is soon revealed that he’s not an actual lawman but someone only interested in getting his hands on the four million.
Hank and Jacob return to the site of the crash with him, and there’s a standoff. To say it ends badly for Jacob is putting it mildly. Hank survives, and the movie’s coda shows him and his wife back to how they were in the beginning, struggling to survive financially (because Hank decided to burn the ill-gotten money). The best thing to do when you come across something that doesn’t belong to you is to just go about your business as if you didn't see it. Keep life simple.
A SIMPLE PLAN is directed by Sam Raimi and can be streamed on Amazon Prime.