One of the best crime thrillers of the last 15 years, “A Simple Plan” has never quite gotten its due. It was based on a best-selling novel, had perfect actors for their respective roles (Bill Paxton, Billy Bob Thornton, Brent Briscoe, Bridget Fonda), had a terrific script by the novel’s author Scott B. Smith, and excellent directing by Sam Raimi. It got some respectful nods from critics, Oscar nominations for Thornton and Smith, but bombed at the box office and has now been virtually forgotten.
That’s too bad, because this is a superior, intelligent thriller that presents more ethical quandaries and dilemmas than a graduate course on Ethics. The premise seems simple: three men find over $4 million in the woods near a crashed plane and decide to keep it. But then things unravel … and all three men find themselves in a world of danger that keeps escalating and the men find themselves doing things they would have never thought possible.
It reminds me of something I read once … maybe by Russian philosopher and semiotician Mikhail Bakhtin … that basically asserted that it’s not one act that causes man to act unethically. If you wonder how you would act if presented with a significant moral and ethical dilemma, your answer is in how you act when presented with arguably minor ethical dilemmas (i.e. getting too much change back from a cashier, finding that jewelry item you reported missing after were paid for the item by your insurance company). It’s the little decisions you make in your day to day life that comprises your character and what will define what you do in the face of a horrible decision. Nobody’s perfect and even good people can make bad decisions. But a callous disregard for such things in minor situations is likely to lead to more horrendous decisions later. I may be wrong on whether it was Bakhtin that said this, but the sentiment holds very strongly to this film … and to what I have seen is behind most people’s very bad decisions.
“A Simple Plan” is deep. Very deep. And it will stay with you for days.