Saturday 23 November 2013

A Simple Plan (1998)

Directed by Sam Raimi, and adapted for the screen by Scott B. Smith (working from his own novel), A Simple Plan is a low-key film from a director better known for wild adventures and some frenetic camerawork. He may not have been the obvious choice to work with this material, but the end result speaks for itself.

Bill Paxton plays Hank, a young man working hard to maintain a decent life for himself and his pregnant partner, Sarah (Bridget Fonda). But everything looks as if it could change for the better when Hank, his brother Jacob (Billy Bob Thornton), and Jacob's drinking buddy, Lou (Brent Briscoe), discover a crashed plane in the woods that happens to have over $4M dollars on board. The men decide to keep the money, but to wait until they find out whether or not it is safe to spend. If any heat starts to come down on them, at all, then Hank will turn their find over to the police. It's not long until the money starts to cause problems, and paranoia begins to set in.

Set in a Minnesota covered in snow - I don't know if it's often so white there or just seasonally - this is a stark film. A film that juxtaposes death and blood right beside all of that pure, white snow. It also juxtaposes a situation getting out of control with performances that are brilliantly calm and natural. Paxton has rarely been better in an everyday Joe role, Thornton is as great as he so often can be, and it's only Briscoe who gets to act up a bit, although his character still feels very believable as he just happens to be that kind of drunken ass. Fonda's character is not onscreen all that often, but makes quite an impact on the proceedings with the ideas that she gives to Hank. And then there's Chelcie Ross and Gary Cole, both doing great work in small, but vital, roles.

One of a few Sam Raimi movies that doesn't feel obviously like a Sam Raimi movie, this shows that he can leave his reliable bag of tricks aside, when the material is strong enough, and focus on crafting a story full of memorable characters without any quirks, overdone horror or ridiculous diversions pandering to his own sense of humour. That's not to say that I don't love many of his other movies (I do, I REALLY do, especially the three films featuring a certain young man named Ash battling a load of demons in a cabin in the woods), but it's always good to see him stretching himself slightly instead of relying on the stuff that he knows will please his fans.

A film executed in a way that almost mirrors the plotting, this seems simple enough, but there's plenty going on to make it appear so enjoyable and effortless. It's well worth your time.


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