A Simple Plan

Movie review by
Jeffrey M. Anderson, Common Sense Media
A Simple Plan Movie Poster Image
Masterful thriller about greed has violence, language.
  • R
  • 1998
  • 121 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

While there's no direct, positive message -- it's more of a cautionary tale -- the movie has plenty of material worth discussing. Viewers can talk about the nature of greed, how powerful and corrupting it is, and how it can make people turn against other people. Viewers can also talk about what they might have done differently in the same situation. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

No real role models here, given that all the characters succumb to the ravages of greed, and almost all of them commit unspeakable acts. Two of the characters, at least, learn a lesson at the end.

Violence

Characters shot and killed, with blood spatters. Smothering man to death. Bashing man on head. Reference to a man committing suicide. Crow pecks at character's head. Bloody wound. A fox breaks into a hen house and carries away a dead chicken. Frequent arguing.

Sex

A pregnant woman's naked breasts shown while wearing an open bathrobe. A man tries to grope a woman in a bar.

Language

Several uses of "f--k," "motherf----r," "s--t," "bulls---," "a--hole," "son of a bitch," "ass," "damn," "hell," "jerk," "shut up." Plus "Jesus" and "oh God/oh my God." Middle finger gesture.

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Frequent social drinking, in bars and at home, beers and whisky. Dialogue about characters having drunk too much the night before. Drinking and driving. References to drug dealers. Wine at dinner.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that A Simple Plan is a thriller about three men whose lives are turned upside down when they find a bag of money. Based on a novel by Scott B. Smith, it's a masterpiece from Spider-Man director Sam Raimi, and it works on every level: visually, thematically, and emotionally. It includes guns and shooting, characters shot to death, blood spatters, hitting, a mention of suicide, arguing, and more. Language includes several uses of "f--k," "s--t," and plenty more. A pregnant woman's naked breasts are visible while she wears an open bathrobe. A man tries to grope a woman's behind in a bar. Characters drink frequently, in social settings, mostly beer and whisky. There's dialogue about characters drinking too much, a scene of drinking and driving, and dialogue about drug dealers.

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What's the story?

In A SIMPLE PLAN, Hank (Bill Paxton) works at a feed store in rural Minnesota while his librarian wife Sarah (Bridget Fonda) is about to have a baby; they're just getting by, but are happy. Hank's uneducated brother Jacob (Billy Bob Thornton) comes over one morning to visit their parents' graves. Jacob brings the low-class, beer-drinking Lou (Brent Briscoe). Driving home, Jacob's dog runs off into the snowy woods, and the trio find a crashed airplane, the pilot dead, and a huge bag of money -- $4.4 million -- in the back. They decide to keep it, but agree that they'll wait until spring to see if anyone comes looking for it. Before long tensions arise, leading to arguing and eventually murder.

Is it any good?

Sam Raimi's neo-noir masterpiece is a story of greed and nervous waiting and decaying civility; it brilliantly balances gut-clenching suspense and dynamic violence with nuanced, engaging characters. Expertly adapted by Scott B. Smith from his own debut novel, A Simple Plan reveals a new maturity in director Raimi, best known for his frenzied Evil Dead cult horror movies and his high-spirited hit Spider-Man movies. The movie's use of snow and intertwining, spiderweb-like tree branches visually establishes a sense of entrapment, and images of Hank and Sarah's happy home life slowly taken over by the money's corrupting power create strong drama.

The characters are also key, from Paxton's college-educated Hank, who likes to take charge, to Thornton's slow-witted Jacob, who occasionally surprises with demonstrations of his own kind of inner wisdom (Thornton received an Oscar nomination). Fonda rises above the usual third-wheel wife character with Sarah's own whip-smart cleverness; she's almost a femme fatale. Even Briscoe's Lou avoids a backwoods hillbilly stereotype, instead finding his inner pain and defense mechanisms. Raimi pulls all these elements together into a movie that's strongly visual as well as character-driven, and constantly gripping as well as frequently touching. A Simple Plan easily ranks among the greatest film noirs of all time.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about A Simple Plan's depiction of violence. How did it make you feel? How did the filmmakers achieve this? Were the scenes shocking or thrilling?

  • How is drinking portrayed? Is it glamorized? Are there consequences for drinking?

  • What is the nature of greed? Why is it so powerful, and why does it often have such negative results?

  • What would you have done if you found the money?

  • How does the movie compare to the original novel?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love thrills

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