A Simple Plan by Scott Smith

A Simple Plan is one of those truly rare instances in which the film is actually better than the book. Not that the book is bad – it’s actually quite good – but since author Scott Smith also wrote the screenplay, he was able to edit out the aspects of the plot that just didn’t work out very well. So, while the novel is definitely worth reading, if I had to pick one, I would go with the movie.

The narrator, Hank Mitchell, visits his parents’ grave once a year with his brother, Jacob. This year, an already drunk Jacob and his best friend, Lou, pick up Hank for the outing, but Jacob swerves his truck to dodge a fox and they end up in a ditch instead of at the graveyard. Angered, Jacob and Lou chase the fox into the woods with the intention of shooting it – but the fox is not what they find. Instead, they discover a crashed plane containing a duffle bag with 4 million dollars inside. Hank wants to return the money, but when the other two men hesitate, he takes the lead and devises a “simple plan” so that they can each ultimately keep a share of the money. Of course, the plan quickly develops complications, and Hank’s character comes into question as he repeatedly chooses the money over his loved ones and, by the end, his own soul.

I absolutely LOVE this kind of book (and movie) because it is great for generating conversation. Would you keep the money? Would you turn it in? Could you ever really know unless the opportunity were right there in front of you? There is a perfect moment in both the movie and the book in which Hank is posing this question to his very pregnant wife, Sarah. She is doing some chores around the house and only half listening, and she responds that she would, without a doubt, turn in the money. Hank them dumps the 4 million on the kitchen table, and the change in Sarah is immediate. This scene essentially characterizes the entire novel – no one knows what they are capable of until he actually finds himself in the situation. At the beginning, Hank presents himself as morally upright and straight-laced, so much so that he often frowns upon his heavily-drinking brother and his lifestyle. However, we learn that Jacob is actually more moral than Hank. Readers and viewers alike are left to wonder if the money causes Hank’s de-evolution, or if it merely reveals what he was all along.

The novel’s concluding chapters take things a bit too far, making readers strain to believe that Hank actually gets away with everything that he does. It’s still a bit of a stretch in the film, but not so much that it overly distracts from the plot. Dark and thought-provoking, A Simple Plan is fantastic in both mediums. But seriously, just save yourself some grief and go straight for the movie – it’s on Amazon Prime and it completely omits the minor annoyances of the novel.

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