Today’s Prayer Focus

A Simple Plan

MPA Rating: R-Rating (MPA) for violence and language.

Reviewed by: Matthew Prins

Moral Rating: Average
Moviemaking Quality:
Primary Audience: Teens Adults
Genre: Drama
Length: 2 hr.
Year of Release: 1998
USA Release: January 22, 1999
Image from A Simple Plan
Relevant Issues
Cover Graphic from A Simple Plan

Money in the Bible

fall of man to sin

Did God make the world the way it is now? What kind of world would you create? Answer

VIOLENCE—How does viewing violence in movies affect families? Answer

Featuring Bill Paxton, Billy Bob Thornton, Bridget Fonda, Gary Cole, Brent Briscoe, Becky Ann Baker, Chelcie Ross, Jack Walsh, Bob Davis, Tom Carey, John Paxton, Marie Mathay, Paul Magers, Joan Steffand
Director Sam Raimi
Producer James Jacks
Adam Schroeder
Distributor: Paramount Pictures Corporation. Trademark logo.
Paramount Pictures Corporation
, a subsidiary of ViacomCBS

Perhaps the most important thing to know about “A Simple Plan” is that the film cannot, by any definition of the word, be called a happy film. (If I had an urge to play an incredibly mean practical joke, I would find a friend who liked “Patch Adams” and tell him that “A Simple Plan” is the other “feel-good movie” of the year; following that, I would be prepared to have one fewer friend.) I will be honest. There is a moment at the end of “A Simple Plan” where I have come as close as I have ever come to whimpering among friends in a movie theater. That said, “A Simple Plan” is also one of the most powerful movies I’ve seen in the theater in a long, long time.

Most of the movie’s power comes from the three main characters: Hank (Bill Paxton) who finds a crashed plane carrying $4 million while with his brother Jacob (Billy Bob Thornton) and Jacob’s best friend Lou (Brent Briscoe). Hank is a college graduate and the smartest of the three, and he wants to give the money to the police. Jacob and Lou want to keep it. Eventually, Hank draws up a plan, where they sit on the money for six months, then split it three ways and all move away from the small town where they grew up. But then there is a somewhat accidental killing by one of the men, and more problems are birthed from previous problems, and the original plan turns to chaos.

If there were an Oscar for ensemble acting, this film should have gotten it, hands down. Not only do the performances of the characters work well individually, the performances play off of each other to such a degree that fiction melds with reality. I didn’t for a moment doubt that Hank and Jacob were brothers, or that Hank and Bridget Fonda’s character were married. I occasionally will see a movie where the characters seem real, but rarely is there a movie where the relationships seem as real as they do in “A Simple Plan”.

In a standout cast, Billy Bob Thornton shines. There are two speeches in the movie Jacob has—one about a childhood toy, one about a former girlfriend—that are as heartbreaking as any moments in film since the final ten minutes of “In The Company of Men”. And he delivers them, not with despair, but with a glimpse of happiness that seems to come from nowhere. The audience and the other characters see the events as violently painful; he sees them as life-confirming. It’s this duality Thornton is able to create that makes his performance so powerful.

A viewer’s impression of the Moral Rating of this movie will depend greatly on what they think a “Christian movie” is. If it is a movie with little sex, violence, or vulgarity, then “A Simple Plan” will probably not be viewed as particularly Christian. By the end of the movie, we have seen quite a number of dead people, some of them killed in front of our eyes. There is more vulgarity than one might hope for, and there is a scene of nudity that starts off the movie. But if it is a movie that glorifies Christian ideals, “A Simple Plan” is as close as one is libel to get under the Hollywood system. The core message is the same as one Jesus gave: a person cannot serve two masters. But rather than money and God, the choice here is between money and family. And where this message ultimately leads is what “A Simple Plan” bravely tries to uncover.

Viewer CommentsSend your comments
More than any other movie in recent years, A Simple Plan offers a clear, intelligent portrayal of seemingly “good” people lusting after money, even money that might truly be needed by them, and the evils that it draws them into. …From a Christian standpoint, the basic worldview held in the film is not explicitly Christian, but at the same time it contains a large amount of Truth. I found its portrayal of humans to be extremely accurate; people who long for fellowship, who search for fulfillment and meaning, yet who are flawed and capable of great evil. This is also one of the few films I have recently seen where people actually are forced to face up to the consequences of their actions. I must add a large cautionary note, however. There is first of all, some profanity, which did not seem overly gratuitous, but is definitely there. There is also some brief strong violence, which I feel is warranted; it is there not to sensationalize, but to bring home to the characters and the audience the horrifying nature of the actions the characters are forced into by their decisions. For anyone interested in a serious, sobering morality tale, and to those who will not be put off by the profanity and violence, A Simple Plan is a very fine film, and is one that I would highly recommend.
Jason Murphy, age 19
…an ode to Fargo and I can’t imagine its landscape and characters (the snowy backdrop, the ordinary Joe Q. Public Midwesterners, the quirky story, the brutal violence, the excellent performances) being as solidified as they are without Fargo in the not so distant past… tension between Hank and Jacob is fully explored, much to the benefit of Billy Bob Thornton’s wonderful acting skills. He once again shows himself to be a unique actor in Hollywood and could easily pull off a Best Supporting Actor if the running gets tight. His Jacob is a simple man who relies on his brother and realizes before anyone else that greed is killing them from the inside out. His questions to his brother are poignant and probing. First, he asks “Hank, this will make me happy, won’t it?” Everyone else takes this for granted but his slow mind knows that the drastic change expected with the cash won’t be a change for the better. And finally he wonders if Hank “ever feel(s) evil?”. Hank never answers. It is clear that Jacob does and clear what A Simple Plan is: a sincere morality tale that is funny and touching and well worth seeing.
Brian A. Gross
I, too, was immensely impressed by this biblical-style story of how seemingly “good” men can do such “bad” things. We are all sinners, and any one of us is capable of immense evil. Thanks to God, we can look to him for our direction in life and look at Him as our master… not the love of money, like these characters did. My Ratings: [2½/4½]
T.C., age 26
Warning: major plot points revealed in this comment… I agree with the reviewer that the movie was good, both wonderfully acted and well written. But writer Scott B. Smith (who also wrote the book the film is based on, and though it annoys me when movies are different then the books, he obviously has the right to do it here) changed part of the story when Jacob is killed. I also was appalled the last line of the book was not in the movie at all. My Ratings: [2/4]
JH, age 15