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A Simple Plan

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All-Reviews.com Movie Review: A Simple Plan

Starring: Bill Paxton, Billy Bob Thorton
Director: Sam Raimi
Rated: R
RunTime: 121 Minutes
Release Date: December 1998
Genre: Thriller


*Also starring: Brent Briscoe, Bridget Fonda



Review by Harvey Karten
No Rating Supplied

A critic for a prestigious magazine recently began his review of "Enemy of the State" by speculating that "there's a bomb ticking inside each of us waiting for the right opportunity to set itself off." Psychologists and historians have long told us the same thing in similar ways: that civilization is just a thin veneer for a torrent of violence that lurks beneath each of us. Another expression popular with those who like to think pessimistically about the human condition is, "There's larceny in all of our hearts." The most outwardly law-abiding person will participate in a criminal act if the reward is great enough and the chances of punishment meager. What would you do if you found a ten-dollar bill in the street? Turn it in to the police station, which is the only legal way to handle the situation? Sure you would. What if you found four million dollars on a deserted country road? You could always keep it, rationalizing that it's probably only drug money and that you're not stealing from a poor, honest Joe. Then again, if it's drug money, you might think twice: maybe the Mob is involved and the last thing you want to do is become tracked by ruthless gangsters. Speculate on yet another situation. You find four million dollars, you're willing to take a chance that you can get away with the theft, but two other guys are with you at the time of the discovery. Now, there's the rub. It's no secret that many, if not most criminals who get caught are tracked down because somebody squealed for one reason or another. How do you know your pals will be able to keep quiet? How do you know they won't gang up against you in order to split the dough 50-50 instead of dividing it into three neat piles? Or that they can keep their big mouths shut and keep even their wives in the dark?

In "A Simple Plan," a psychological thriller directed against type by cult horror maven Sam Raimi ("The Evil Dead," "Dead by Dawn," "Maniac Cop"), three friends do indeed find over four million dollars in a newly discovered plane wreck, a strike which obviously changes their lives for the worst in ways they should have anticipated. The most rational, intelligent, and educated of the three, Hank (Bill Paxton), immediately smells a rat. Realizing that his two accomplices are his slow-witted, unhappy brother, Jacob (Billy Bob Thornton) and the town's loudmouth drunk, Lou (Brent Briscoe), you don't wonder that he wants to turn the money in and, failing that, to keep it safely hidden away from the other two for several months.

Slow moving at first, "A Simple Plan" grows steadily in tension as director Raimi, working with an intricate script from Scott B. Smith, continually raises the ante. The film is replete with Hitchcockian devices, principally with the schemes of a flock of black birds, some of whom are waiting to get back to the meal they are making of a dead man's eyes, others pecking at each other as metaphor for the fate that awaits the newly minted criminals. Raimi is eager to show humankind's corruptibility, as Hank--an upright guy whom one of his buddies accuses of having a stick up his rear end--succumbs to greed. Surprisingly, the most ethical character of all, Hank's wife Sarah (Bridget Fonda), becomes the leading proponent of a plan to keep the money despite her insistence that she and her husband are doing jes' fine on what they are living on. Even Hank--an intuitive person who at the beginning of the story describes his good fortune in following his father's formula for happiness--becomes overcome by avarice. After all, doesn't he already have what he needs to be content--a good wife, a fine job, and friends and neighbors who like and respect him?

True enough, but then just as necessity is the mother of invention, so is invention the mother of necessity. We got along fine before we had computers and cell phones, but try living without them now. Hank was doing dandy before he discovered the 4 mil, but of course now he absolutely must have it, even if keeping it will result in more bodies strewn about the snowy countryside than Shakespeare manufactured for his Elizabethan stage.

Bridget Fonda looks younger than she's appeared in years and is persuasive as the good wife who, having 44,000 hundred-dollar bills poured across her living room table decides that she can no longer live decently on her husband's income. She's had it with going to restaurants only on special occasions, skipping appetizers, and then coming home for dessert. Billy Bob Thornton projects the picture of unhappiness, a guy with a silly rug covering a pea- sized brain who has never kissed a girl and thinks that even a million dollars cannot help him to...well, you know the old joke. Bill Paxton, as usual, is Mr. Nice Guy who is debauched by dough which turns out, as they say, to be the root of all evil.

All in all "A Simple Plan" is a well-made film, a thinking person's thriller which eschew Sam Raimi's usual graphic gore in favor of the playing out of a metaphoric chess game. Julius Caesar would have enjoyed the way the three guys and a gal play the game of divide and rule, a quartet laid low by greed, envy, sloth, and a big mouth.

Rated R. Running Time: 121 minutes. (C) 1998 Harvey Karten

Copyright 2000 Harvey Karten

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