[Film Review] A Simple Plan (1998)

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Title: A Simple Plan
Year: 1998
Country: USA, UK, Germany, France, Japan
Language: English
Genre: Crime, Drama, Thriller
Director: Sam Raimi
Screenwriter: Scott B. Smith
based on his own novel
Music: Danny Elfman
Cinematography: Alar Kivilo
Bill Paxton
Bridget Fonda
Billy Bob Thornton
Brent Briscoe
Becky Ann Baker
Chelcie Ross
Gary Cole
John Paxton
Rating: 7.6/10

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Sam Raimi’s A SIMPLE PLAN is a a pitch-black cautionary tale apropos of human nature, adapted by Scott B. Smith from his own novel, in a wintry rule Minnesota, a snow-covered crashed airplane with a dead pilot and a bag of $4.4 million in $100 bills is discovered by three men, our protagonist Hank Mitchell (Paxton), his elder brother Jacob (Thornton) and the latter’s friend Lou Chamber (Briscoe), and morality is soon discarded in favor of cupidity, the trio decides to keep the money (safeguarded by Hank) and divvy it up later when the dust settles.

Smith’s script acutely tees off on the toxic value of American dream which doesn’t take much time for a vacuous Lou to cajole a seemingly upstanding Hank into jumping on board., yet naturally, in no time grievous consequences snowball in the fashion of distrust, double-cross and homicides. Hank, a college-educated family man works in a feed mill, he and her beautiful wife Sarah (Fonda) are expecting their first child, as his voice-over comments right out of the box, he has a happy if ordinary life. Then everything changes after he brings the windfall home and appears hot to trot to spill the beans to Sarah, which strikes as the first knock to dismantle his good-guy front, after all, the triad agrees to keep their discovery from their spouses until a safer moment, which obliquely implies that deep down, a well-educated Hank is no difference from the harebrained rube of Lou when illicit money beckons.

The key reason to let Sarah in the loop is that Hank needs her advise and in a somewhat misogynistic twist, she becomes the real wire-puller and things go south right after Hank takes her supposedly astute directives, first to return a small portion of the cash to the plane to obviate suspicion, during which firstly Jacob, then Hank turns murderous, a second “sagacious idea” is to tape a fake confession from Lou to counter the latter’s blackmail of the first murder, which two more casualties ensue (intentionally or not, also serves as a sideswipe to the firearm rampancy in every trigger-happy bumpkin household). Although avarice is gender-color, but the story’s insidious “blame-it-on-the-woman” overtone fails go undetected by sensitive viewers, not least by giving Sarah a soapbox to deliver her outrageous grievance about a perfectly acceptable normal life, though the conciliatory effect is that Bridget Fonda has never been better before in investing a chilling sophistication in her character.

While Sarah’s advise-giving enthusiasm might be jinxed, the malefactor is Hank beyond doubt, who is a squeaky-clean exemplar of working-class complacency, and the late Bill Paxton inhabits emphatically into Hank’s moral quandary that impels him to the point of no return, particularly to pull off his two cases of spur-of-the-moment about-faces that are of salient import but also over-prepared by hoary cinematic machination, not until he realizes that all is a castle in the sky and he might get off scot-free, but it is a hefty price to pay, as there is no Lethe for the breathing sinners on the earth.

In fact, the real deal here is none than other Billy Bob Thornton, who received an Oscar nomination (along with Smith’s screenplay) for his extraordinary turn as Jacob Mitchell, and what is so extraordinary is that Jacob defies a viewer’s habitual categorization by every and each turn, when at first you might think he is a saddo who, apart from desperately needing a haircut, might be a bit mentally challenged, goes pally with his fellow simpleton, in the next scene he goes berserk and bludgeoning-prone, later, plays a low-key game-changer in the double-crossing which goes awry, then retreats to his hovel, he is all melancholic with his “never-been-kissed” admission and an illusory new lease on life to evoke sympathy, not without shooting unexpected remarks that often leaves Hank petrified (like the truth behind their father’s death), and ultimately, his guilt-ridden capitulation gives the movie its emotional crunch when the pursuer for their ill-gotten cash gains on too close for comfort.

Foreshadowed by images of a chicken-marauding fox and often, cawing crows in the snow land, A SIMPLE PLAN cuts deep into a fascinating shaggy-dog story which emulates Coen Brothers’ best crime thrillers, but with a paucity of the latter’s trademark gallows humor, a sturdy work of Americana that captures its 90s ethos, warts and all.

referential entries: Coen Brothers’ FARGO (1996, 8.5/10), BLOOD SIMPLE (1984, 8.1/10)

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