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A Simple Plan

A Simple Plan is a novel by American novelist Scott B. Smith. It was published in 1993. A movie based on the novel was made in 1998 and directed by Sam Raimi.

A Simple Plan is predominantly a moral tale which deals with issues of greed, the American dream and the nature of good and evil. The main characters are depicted as every day people who have normal values and ambitions, and thus their actions are intended somewhat as a cautionary tale.


Warning: Spoilers follow

The novel's main character is Hank Mitchell, a middle class married man who works as an accountant. After visiting his father's grave with his anti-social brother, Jacob, and Jacob's alcoholic friend, Lou, Jacob is cut off by a fox and veers his truck into the ditch. The three follow the fox into the woods for vengeance -- Hank somewhat reluctantly -- and end up finding a crashed plane instead. Inside the plane is a gym bag with $4.4-million in $100 bills.

Hank argues that they should turn the money over the authorities, but Jacob and Lou, both mired in poverty and unemployed, argue they should keep it. Eventually Hank agrees to keep the money on the condition that they wait until the spring thaw, when the plane is discovered, to spend any of it. If there is any mention of the missing money when the plane is found, the money will be burned; otherwise, they split it three ways. In the meantime, Hank will keep the money in safekeeping.

After they cart the money back to Jacob's truck, Carl, the local sheriff, pulls up to them. Hank tells Jacob and Lou he will handle the encounter and tells Carl that they were just on their way back from the cemetery and a fox forced them off the road. Jacob interrupts by telling Carl that they heard a plane with engine trouble; Hank grows infuriated with Jacob over the comment, feeling it was better to leave everything unsaid. Jacob explains that he did it because he figured they would never suspect them now that they had been so honest about things.

Hank tells Lou to not tell Nancy, Lou's wife, about the money, then goes home and tells his wife, Sarah, about the plan. She is initially reluctant but quickly warms to the idea of not having to worry about how they're going to pay the bills or what kind of upbringing they will be able to afford for their children.

Slowly, however, the plan starts becoming more complicated. At Sarah's suggestion, Hank and Jacob go back to the plane the following day to place some of the money back in the plane; the thinking is, if some of the money is there, when the plane is found nobody will ask if there was any more. While Jacob is guarding the truck, the local barber, Pederson, pulls up on a snowmobile to see what the problem is. Jacob becomes nervous and hits Pederson, knocking him out; he thinks he's killed him. Hank returns and is stunned at the development. To cover his brother's action, he drags Pederson and his snowmobile to a nearby creek where he intends to make it appear as though Pederson slid off the road. On the way, Pederson revives consciousness and demands the police be called. Forced to choose between helping Pederson and going to jail, and finishing what he thought Jacob had already done, Hank chooses to suffocate Pederson himself. There is no mention of foul play in the news reports.

Through Jacob, Lou discovers that Hank killed Pederson. He attempts to use this information to blackmail Hank into giving him some of the money early but Hank tells him the money is stored a day's drive away. At Sarah's urging (again), Hank and Jacob set out to blackmail Lou. They go out for a night of drinks and, back at Lou's place, con Lou into saying he killed Pederson while roleplaying while Hank is taping. Hank reveals the tape to Lou and Lou has a fit. He grabs his gun as Hank and Jacob make their ways outside. Jacob grabs his rifle from the truck and, thinking Lou is about to shoot Hank, shoots and kills Lou. Nancy hears the shot, sees the body and grabs a gun. Hank kills her with Lou's gun.

Hank phones Sarah with the intention of immediately thereafter phoning the police. Sarah says she has a better idea and suggests setting the situation up to look like a domestic dispute. The plan, however, requires killing a neighbour to make it appear as though Nancy was having an affair. Hank agrees, goes next door, drags their neighbour, Sonny, to Lou's house and kills him. Hank then realizes Jacob is uncomfortable with the set-up and is will likely tell the police, so he shoots him as well. Hank frames the situation to the police, who believe it.

Hank is then informed, through Carl, that the FBI is looking for a lost plane. An FBI agent, Baxter, wants Hank to lead them to the area where he and Jacob heard the plane's engine sputtering. Sarah is uncomfortable with the idea and checks agent Baxter's FBI record. She phones Hank at the police office to tell him that there is no agent Baxter at the FBI, that he is in fact one of the kidnappers whose ransom they'd stolen. Hank tells Carl that the baby's sick and he has to go home, leaving Carl alone to escort "agent" Baxter to the plane.

Hank is called in for questioning by the police the next day. He is informed that Baxter has killed Carl. He is also informed that the money Baxter was looking for is listed -- one in every ten bills had their serial numbers recorded and it was just a matter of time before the numbers starting popping up in banks and the bills were traced.

Realizing the money's worthless, Hank goes home with the intention of burning it all. When he gets home, however, Sarah informs him that she's spent some of the money already. Hank frantically inquires about where she spent the money. He then goes to the store and kills the cashier who had served his wife.

He then goes home and burns the money. The novel ends with Hank wondering to himself how good people -- as he still viewed himself -- could do such evil things.

Movie version

The movie A Simple Plan, based on the novel, was released in 1998. It was directed by Sam Raimi and starred Bill Paxton as Hank Mitchell, Bridget Fonda as Sarah and Billy Bob Thornton as Jacob. Billy Bob Thornton was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. Scott B. Smitt also wrote the screenplay and was nominated for the Academy Award for Writing Adapted Screenplay.

The screenplay made numerous changes to the plot, particularly to events in the second half of the novel. In the movie, after Lou and Nancy are killed, Hank does not kill Sonny or shoot Jacob; rather, he constructs a domestic dispute situation involving just Nancy and Lou, with he and Jacob walking in after Lou had killed Nancy.

The movie also changes Hank's reaction to finding out Baxter isn't an FBI agent. Rather than bolting, as he does in the novel, Hank stays with the plan realizing that if he leaves Baxter will kill Carl. Jacob also accompanies the crew. The result is a bloodbath, with only Hank surviving. Jacob is killed by Hank after Jacob threatens to commit suicide because he feels he can no longer live with what he's seen; Hank didn't want him to kill himself because which guns shot whom needed to align for his alibi.

The movie also excludes Hank's killing spree with the cashiers.

Overall, the changes made the finished story less violent and Hank's character more compassionate. Although Hank commits crimes throughout both, in the movie he does not commit premeditative murder, as he does to Sonny and the cashier in the novel. Hank is also depicted protecting Carl in the movie, whereas in the novel he leaves Carl for dead. Much of the dialogue and themes, however, are carefully maintained in both mediums.