I watched the 1998 film “A Simple Plan” again last night, and as usual with movies I see several times, I noticed some details and themes that eluded me in previous viewing. This is an ethics film, and one that would support a seminar, yet virtually none of the reviews of “A Simple Plan” mention ethics at all. That is to be expected, since ethics isn’t on Hollywood’s radar or that of 99% of the participants in the film industry, including reviewers. Checking the archives, I discovered that I mentioned the movie in an ethical context three times, but never seriously examined the film itself.
“A Simple Plan,” based on a novel by the same name, stars Bill Paxton, Billy Bob Thornton as the very different Mitchell bothers in rural Minnesota, Hank (Paxton) and Jacob (Thornton) who, along with Jacob’s friend Lou discover a crashed private plane in a snowy field. Along with the dead pilot, the wreck contains over $4 million in cash.
The simple plan of the title is the three men’s decision to take the money, hold on to it until the plane is discovered, and then divide it up afterwards if nobody is looking for the cash. Hank, the only one of the three with firing neurons, initially wants to report the crash and the cash, obviously the legal, safe and ethical course, but allows his genial but dim-witted brother and his habitually drunk friend convince him to try the “plan.”
This illustrates at least nine vital ethics lessons right up front: