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(1998) (Bill Paxton, Billy Bob Thornton) (R)

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Drama/Suspense: Upon finding and agreeing to split more than $4 million discovered in a wrecked plane, three men soon learn that they can't trust each other as greed, paranoia and guilt catapult them ever deeper into trouble.
Hank (BILL PAXTON) is an average guy living a peaceful life in a small Minnesota town where he knows everyone by name. Working at the local feed mill, and husband to his very pregnant wife, Sarah (BRIDGET FONDA), Hank may not be the richest guy in the world, but he's quite content.

While catching a ride with his somewhat dimwitted brother, Jacob (BILLY BOB THORNTON) and his unemployed friend, Lou (BRENT BRISCOE), in late December, Hank finds himself on an impromptu fox hunt after such a critter crosses the road and causes Jacob to crash his truck.

Wandering through the deep snow, the three men are surprised to discover a wrecked plane, long hidden by the winter's precipitation. Even more surprising, they find a satchel containing $4.4 million along with the long dead pilot.

Jacob and Lou are elated about their newfound wealth, but Hank doesn't want to keep the money. Even so, they eventually convince him that it's probably drug money and therefore a victimless crime. Hank finally agrees to keep the money only if they don't tell anyone else about it, and that he gets to keep it until the following spring when, if no has reported it missing, they'll divide the money and leave town.

Of course, the three immediately tell others about the money, and soon learn that they can't trust one another after greed, paranoia and distrust quickly set in. As the men try to figure out the others' motives, they must also contend with the local sheriff, Carl (CHELCIE ROSS), who's initial curiosity about a downed plane -- caused by Jacob's dimwitted slip of the tongue -- is piqued when FBI agent Baxter (GARY COLE) arrives and begins snooping around for it.

As the men try to cover what was once a simple plan, they dig themselves into even deeper holes as they find that they must eliminate suspicions, witnesses and possibly each other to keep the money.

Most won't -- but older teens who hear this film compared to "Fargo" may just want to see it.
For violence and language.
Considering the behavior and motives of nearly everyone involved, the only decent role model would be that of Chelcie Ross as the local sheriff, although Billy Bob Thornton's character eventually folds under his increasing guilt over the matters and wants to come clean about what's happened.


OUR TAKE: 7 out of 10
Reminiscent of the highly acclaimed film "Fargo" in style, execution and somewhat in plot, "A Simple Plan" is an engaging, dramatic thriller. Although occasional character motivations and plot developments spur the need for a dose of the old "suspension of disbelief" to fully accept and appreciate what happens, for the most part the film efficiently delivers the goods in an entertaining way.

Of course, that's as long as you don't mind the macabre approach the film takes. Like "Fargo" and the recent "A Perfect Murder," one's appreciation or enjoyment of the film lies heavily with not being bothered by murder, deception and greed being mingled with humor.

If you don't find that troublesome, you may just get a kick out of this wicked little picture. As in those other films, the "fun" for the audience comes from watching the principal characters scramble as their well-laid plans going awry, and that certainly happens here.

Unlike those films, however, this one takes a different approach by having the "average Joe" characters stumble into a situation that then immediately requires them to develop their contrived plan. Although audiences often like their protagonists in such films to be conniving, cold and calculating and certainly always in control (such as Michael Douglas in "A Perfect Murder"), it's not such a bad idea to take the opposite approach. Since these guys are seemingly more like everyday people (at least initially), it's somewhat easier to accept their predicament and behavior.

Of course, not everyone would keep the money for themselves, and here's where the first dose of suspension of disbelief (or S.O.D.) is needed. Although it's not terribly difficult to accept that Hank could be talked into doing just that, a more developed motive or coercion would have made it easier to accept. Not only that, but it also would have propelled the plot into something of a quicker pace earlier in the story.

That's not to say that the men's secretive plan doesn't go awry soon enough -- it's clear that the film's tempo is purposefully paced -- and it's not long before complications begin escalating out of control. It's here that a larger dose of S.O.D. is needed. Considering Hank's initial moral conflict with the plan, it's highly unlikely he'd finish off a potential witness after his brother has made a horrible, split-second judgement call.

Had there been more at stake -- such as his brother facing asylum commitment for another sudden act of violence or something similar to that -- such behavior on Hank's part would be easier to believe. Similarly, while his wife, Sarah, eventually explains her own dark motives, it's a bit difficult to buy into her easygoing acceptance of her husband's newfound homicidal tendencies.

If the film had fully adopted the approach that the characters -- seemingly decent everyday folk -- could be corrupted into becoming malevolent beings over the money -- something that partially happens, although Sarah's motivation seems errant at best -- that would have been one thing.

Although the film never delivers enough compelling evidence to make the characters and their motivations completely believable in that manner, a liberal application of S.O.D. alleviates some of those problems. While a few more logical and logistical problems show up later in the plot that will throw off the hypercritical, as long as you don't think too much or over analyze what's happening, you should be able to enjoy the proceedings.

Much of that can be credited to director Sam Raimi who's working from Scott B. Smith's adaption of his own novel. While known more for his cult hits such as "Army of Darkness" and "Darkman" and the wildly innovative camera work he usually deploys in them, Raimi has decided to forgo such visual theatrics in favor of a more old-fashioned suspense drama.

That's not to say that the film isn't visually impressive -- it still is -- but Raimi seems more concerned with establishing mood -- note the Edgar Allan Poe-like black birds that continuously watch over the characters -- as well as in creating interesting character dynamics.

To make that work, one obviously needs a decent cast and in that regard Raimi has hit the jackpot. Bill Paxton ("Twister," "Titanic") is well cast as the only conspirator with much of a moral conscience, and as his character finds himself ever deeper in more muck, Paxton plays him just right. Brent Briscoe ("U-Turn," "Sling Blade") is quite good and believable as the unemployed redneck whose greed serves as one of the film's many plot turning catalysts.

It's Billy Bob Thornton ("Sling Blade," "Armageddon"), however, who easily steals the show. Although some may think he's simply playing a variation of his character from "Sling Blade," his creation here is decidedly more complex.

Teetering between partial simpleton, a goofy sibling, and a person so distraught by inner turmoil that he devises a decidedly offbeat but creative way to free himself of such burdens, Thornton delivers a character that you can't ever quite put your finger on. Always interesting to watch, his character Jacob becomes ever more complex as the story wears on and is something of the "hot potato" as one is never sure what he might say or do to spin the plot into yet another direction.

Chelcie Ross and Gary Cole are decent in their supporting roles, although Bridget Fonda ("It Could Happen to You," "Jackie Brown"), however, isn't always believable in hers -- as earlier described. Nonetheless, a decently written and compelling speech that her character delivers near the end does explain and justify -- in hindsight -- her seemingly incongruous motivation and behavior.

That speech, and several other decently developed and delivered moments between the two brothers -- including a bit of dialogue from Thornton about his character's awareness of his own self-limitations -- are what set this film apart from most similar thrillers, and from most anything that Raimi has previously helmed. In essence, they add a human dimension back into a story that had initially ripped most of that from its characters, and it's a nice touch.

While not a perfect dark comedy thriller, the film certainly has its share of "fun" and macabre moments, as well as some decent performances. Although a few elements -- in both plot development and character behavior -- are a bit difficult to swallow at times, if you don't think too much about them you may just get a kick out of this picture. Despite those problems, we give "A Simple Plan" a 7 out of 10.

Here's a quick summary of this R rated film. Profanity is extreme with more than 25 "f" words and an assortment of others. Violence is also extreme, with six deaths (many by gunshot), some of which are bloody and/or may be suspenseful to some viewers.

Very brief nudity occurs when we see a pregnant woman's bare breasts in an open robe, and a moderate amount of drinking occurs during the film. Thematic elements of greed, suspicion, paranoia, suicide, and the concept of the men keeping the discovered money for themselves are also interspersed throughout the picture.

Obviously, the film isn't for young kids, but we do suggest that you take a closer look at what's been listed should you be concerned about its appropriateness should someone in your home wish to see it.

  • Lou and Jacob drink beer while the latter drives his truck.
  • When Jacob mentions that he could really use a beer, Lou pulls one out and they share it.
  • Hank and Sarah have champagne on New Year's Eve (but it may be nonalcoholic due to her being pregnant).
  • Hank and Jacob have wine with dinner.
  • The three men have beer in a bar where Lou also downs a shot (while others also drink in the background), and appears a bit intoxicated (and has a reputation for being a drunk).
  • Back at Lou's house, the men drink whiskey.
  • Jacob sits in a bar with a beer in front of him along with two empty shot glasses. Later, he appears to be drunk.
  • Hank takes what may be a beer from his fridge and takes a swig.
  • Hank uses the excuse that Jacob has a hangover to keep him away from potential trouble.
  • We briefly see a glimpse of the dead pilot's face and the large black bird that's pecking at it.
  • Hank has some blood on his brow after briefly being attacked by some black birds.
  • A man who's been hit has a bloody nose.
  • Blood splatters onto a wall and onto a woman as a person gets shot (and we later see a pool of blood on the floor). That woman is then shot and the front of her is bloody.
  • Hank has a bloody scrape on his face after someone hits him.
  • The snow around several people who've been shot is somewhat bloody.
  • Obviously, the three men have some of both for deciding not to report the money and instead split it among themselves. Later, as tensions, distrust, and paranoia arise, their attitudes get worse and several people end up dead because of that.
  • Sarah prods Hank to do everything possible to cover their tracks, doesn't trust the others, and doesn't seem to mind that her husband killed someone.
  • Others looking for the money and plane also have bad attitudes.
  • We hear about some kidnapers doing just that after killing several people (none of which is seen).
  • Lou playfully smacks a woman on her butt (in a bar).
  • Scenes listed under "Violence" may also be tense to some viewers.
  • Hank enters the darkened interior of the crashed plane, is surprised by a flock of black birds, and then spots the partially decomposed pilot (whose face a bird was pecking).
  • Hank tries to act casual as the sheriff drives up and wonders what the guys are doing (as they have the money sitting in the bed of Jacob's truck).
  • Tensions rise at Lou's house when he learns that Hank and Jacob may be conspiring against him, and things then turn violent.
  • The guys go off in search of the plane with a person who may be a killer.
  • A man shoots another man in the back, killing him, and then holds his gun on a third man (after hitting him on the face with it) who he forces into the plane to get the money. Inside, the third man desperately tries to load his handgun, but the first man fires several shots through the plane. The third man then comes outside, holds his gun on the first, and then shoots him point blank in the head, killing him.
  • Another man then tells that man to kill him (as he can no longer handle the mess they've created) or he'll kill himself. The third man then tentatively aims his gun at this other man (whose back is turned to him and who puts his own gun to his head). That fourth man then appears to commit suicide.
  • Rifles: Carried by Jacob as they go searching for a fox, and later also carried by a snowmobiler.
  • Rifles/Handguns: Used to threaten or kill others. See "Violence" for details.
  • Phrases: "Shut the f*ck up," "Kiss my ass," "Screwed up," "Pissed off," "Take a leak," "Jerk," what sounded like "Dumb ass," and "Shut up."
  • The guys don't report finding the discovered money.
  • Jacob playfully gives "the finger" to Lou.
  • Jacob joins Lou in "writing" his name in the snow (with their urine that isn't seen from our distant vantage point).
  • Lou playfully smacks a woman on her butt (in a bar).
  • Hank manipulates Lou into acting like he's confessing to a murder, and then records this confession for possible later use.
  • A distraught person appears to commit suicide.
  • Lou suddenly shows up as Hank looks out his front door.
  • A moderate amount of suspenseful music plays during several scenes, while an overall ominous theme plays during others.
  • The old '70's song, "Smoking in the Boys Room" plays in the background of a bar scene (that includes the lyrics, "I was smoking in the boys room," etc...
  • At least 26 "f" words, 25 "s" words, 1 possible slang term for female genitals (what sounded like "p*ssy"), 21 hells, 6 asses (1 used with "hole"), 3 damns, 1 S.O.B., and 9 uses of "Oh my God," 8 uses of "G-damn," 5 uses of "Oh God," 4 of "Jesus," 3 of "God," 2 of "Jesus Christ" and 1 use of "Swear to God" as exclamations.
  • We briefly see Sarah's bare breasts and large pregnant belly as Hank spots her with her robe open.
  • None that we noticed, but some people may have smoked during some bar scenes.
  • Jacob and Hank get into fights over the money, and they occasionally comment on their dead father (and whether he committed suicide).
  • A woman must briefly contend with seeing her husband dead from a gunshot wound.
  • What to do if such an amount of money is found.
  • The men's belief that a crime only relates to whether someone gets hurt (physically or otherwise).
  • That breaking the law (or not reporting stolen money) will often lead to more dire consequences.
  • Jacob believes their father committed suicide (instead of accidentally dying in an accident), and a person later appears to commit suicide.
  • Some black birds briefly peck at Hank inside the downed plane.
  • Jacob hits a man on the head with a tire iron (fearing he'll also discover the downed plane).
  • Hank later smothers that man to death and then sends him and his snowmobile crashing down onto a frozen river to make it look like an accident.
  • We hear about some kidnapers doing just that after killing several people (none of which is seen).
  • One of the men holds a rifle on another, while the third holds his rifle on the first. The first then shoots his rifle over the second's head and appears ready to shoot him, so the third shoots the first, killing him.
  • A woman hits a man several times and then shoots at him several times with a handgun. In return, he shoots her and blows her back across the room, killing her. That man that shoots several shots through the house.
  • A man shoots another man in the back, killing him, and then holds his gun on a third man (after hitting him on the face with it) who he forces into the plane to get the money. Inside, the third man desperately tries to load his handgun, but the first man fires several shots through the plane. The third man then comes outside, holds his gun on the first, and then shoots him point blank in the head, killing him.
  • Another man then tells that man to kill him (as he can no longer handle the mess they've created) or he'll kill himself. The third man then tentatively aims his gun at this other man (whose back is turned to him and who puts his own gun to his head). That fourth man then appears to commit suicide.

  • Reviewed October 7, 1998 / Posted on December 11, 1998

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