A Simple Plan

When I read Scott B. Smith’s book A Simple Plan, I was enthralled with the book almost all the way up to the end. When I heard that a film based on the book was coming out, I was excited to see it. Is this film as good as the book? And did it live up to my expectations?

One winter day, two brothers, Hank (Bill Paxton) and Jacob Mitchell (Billy Bob Thornton), and Jacob’s friend, Lou, find a crashed plane in a snowy field. What they find inside the plane is intriguing: a duffle bag with $4.4 million dollars in it. What does one do? What would you do? These three strike a deal, a simple plan to keep the money. They take the money and hide it until summer comes. When the snow melts and someone finds the plane, they’ll see if anyone is looking for the money. If not, they split the money between themselves.

Sounds easy enough, but three’s a crowd – and we all know how hard it is to keep a secret between three people. To make matters worse Jacob and Lou are drunkards and don’t have well and stable lives like Hank. Jacob and Lou are poor and with every passing day that money looks more enticing to split early. A Simple Plan follows Hank who before the money, lived a fairly normal life. His wife (Bridget Fonda) is pregnant with their first child and he holds a stable job at a local feed store as an accountant. But, the large amount of money is just too big a draw for everyone involved and the simple plan starts to unravel rather quickly. Lines are drawn, sides are picked, and eventually everything is spinning out of control. All moral beliefs that the characters might have held fall to the wayside in order to clear a path to the money. This movie is a superb look at ordinary people stuck in an extraordinary situation.

The script by Scott B. Smith fixes all the flaws that were in his book. The biggest of them was the ending of the book. The ending in the book gets way out of hand and goes overboard into absurdity. In the film, Smith writes a more believable and satisfying ending. Kudos to Smith for translating an already impressive book into an even better film.

Sam Raimi is best known for his more eccentric work like the Evil Dead series and Darkman. With A Simple Plan, Raimi graduates into the more serious side of filmmaking and also expands into a genre with a wider audience. Not lost though is Raimi’s style. He has a very distinct style in his films; the offbeat humour and the subtly over-the-top feeling in some situations. Two strong images that Raimi introduces in the film are the opening chicken-fox images and the continuous one of the crow. I hate talking about symbolism, but the crow was a particularly effective one. “They just wait till something dies,” one of the characters observes. Using the crows, Raimi and Smith makes a simple observation that these characters are not driven by evil, but they are driven by nature.

Bill Paxton is a face that most people recognize but can’t connect to a name. He’s an actor who does a lot of supporting roles (Titanic, True Lies) and sometimes he holds a leading role (Twister). With A Simple Plan he should gain that much needed name/face recognition that he deserves. His performance in A Simple Plan is right on the nose from what I thought his character was like in the book.

Billy Bob Thornton, like always, gives a wonderful performance. The look that he adopts for A Simple Plan is absolutely revolting, but strangely enough it works. Thornton is able to make us sympathetic to him, even though we see that his character is a lazy drunk.

Fonda is not given as much to do in the film as her character had in the book. In the book her character is changed from sweet and innocent to conniving and sneaky. And although this change does happen in the film, it doesn’t happen as well as it did in the book.

The cinematography and film score are worth mentioning. The cinematography by Alar Kivilo is gorgeous. The snow fields are most memorable, but there are small moments like the one in Jacob’s apartment that stand out. The film score by Danny Elfman is brilliant. Subtly urging the audience in different directions, Elfman writes a score that fits the film like a glove. Although this score is not as good as some of Elfman’s other works, Batman and Midnight Run for example, it is a score to remember.

A Simple Plan is not simply a good movie. A Simple Plan is one of the best movies I’ve seen so far this year. Don’t Miss A Simple Plan on the big screen.