A Simple Plan

What would you do for 4 million dollars? How far would you go to get it? Sam Raimi’s brilliant, chilling A Simple Plan tells the story of 4 people that went much too far.

Bill Paxton, in the performance of his career, plays Hank, a small-time accountant living in the snowy north with his low-key wife. He has a troubled brother (Billy Bob Thorton) who dreams of buying their dad’s old farm. He’s got a beer-bellied buddy named Lou who seems to be too far into alcoholism and marginal poverty to have any dreams. One day when their truck crashes into a tree they stumble upon a downed plane. The pilot is dead. The area is deserted. In the plane is a bag. Inside the bag is 4.4 million dollars. What do you do with the money? What would you do with the money? It took some convincing, but they kept the money with the condition that Hank holds on to it until they all decide that it is safe to keep it. Hank’s conscience calms down. But then something happens. A man is killed. Before they know it, the body count becomes two. Then three. They are in over their head, but Hank and his wife deny it. Four. Five?

The brilliance of this film lies in how amazingly well it works as a morality play. It’s a complex look at how 4 different people react to the concept of potential sudden wealth, how it changes them and how it brings out the worst in them. A Simple Plan also has elements that would suggest it to be a cautionary tale, and it’s a damn good one of those, too.

You couldn’t ask anything more from the actors. Billy Bob Thorton got wide-spread acclaim for his turn as the good-natured but slightly stupid brother, and he is great in the role, but wonderful as he is this is Bill Paxton’s movie. He gives one of the most gripping and realistic performances of 1998 as the honest but easily tempted everyday man, and I have trouble imagining anyone else in the role. Bridget Fonda is fine as Hank’s wife, but the script does not explore her character deeply enough.

A Simple Plan features three richly drawn characters, ones we want to spend time with, ones we care about. These are, for once, truly interesting people. The intricate direction by the accomplished Sam Raimi (The Quick and the Dead, Darkman as well as the infamous The Evil Dead trilogy) adds a constant tone of unrelenting suspense to the already taut film. The cinematography by Alar Kivilo is innovative, skillfully taking advantage of the often overused bird’s eye view shots.

The ending of the movie came as a complete surprise to me, which is refreshing considering the incredible amount of utterly predictable movies that we’ve had shoved down our throats in the 90′s. But, then again, A Simple Plan is refreshing as a whole. It’s that rare combination of the mainstream and the thinking-person’s film, and that’s something a critic always longs to see.

-- Eugene Novikov

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