Friday, August 31, 2012

A Simple Plan (1998)

Sometimes Good People indeed do very bad things !

Sam Raimi'"A Simple Plan" based on the novel of the same name by Scott Smith (who also wrote the screenplay) is not a heartwarming movie. It's tragedy, plain and simple - a antidote for sickly-sweet films from the 90s like the highly unlikely "You've Got Mail," which tend to hopelessly romanticize the world we live in. Sure, folks may be nice on the surface; they may even be genuinely good people at heart. But given enough temptation, few of them will fare any better than Eve or Pandora. 

They say that money is the root of all evil, and that's the starting point for this tale of two brothers, Hank and Jacob Mitchell, and Jake's pal Lou. The three men discover over four million dollars in cash in a duffel bag aboard a downed plane. The pilot is dead, the plane is buried under the snow, and apparently no one knows it's there. Jacob and Lou, who are both a little dim, want to keep the money, but Hank, the more reasonable and thoughtful one, thinks it should go to the police. The compromise: Hank keeps the money until the plane is discovered and if there's no mention of it at that point, they split it up and leave town. If someone comes looking for it, he burns it all. It's the only deal he'll agree to, and it is, apparently, a simple plan. 

The film's title is, of course, ironic, in that as things go progressively wrong, each new plan Hank devises (with the help of his increasingly greed-blinded wife) only leads to escalating disaster. The money, which everyone had seen as the key to happiness, brings nothing but grief, and if there's any moral to the film, it's the age-old "money can't buy happiness/love/etc." But, while the concept isn't new, the way the plot develops is an excellent take on the classic suspense flick, with a firm nod to Hitchcock and a debt to more mature works like "Fargo." 

Both as a thriller, and as an exploration into human nature, "A Simple Plan" is a captivating success. The oft-maligned Billy Bob Thornton is not only tolerable as Jacob Mitchell, he's positively endearing. Although he's far from an angel, his innocence and naivete; bring the audience to his side, leaving him as the most sympathetic, and ultimately, most tragic character of the lot. Bill Paxton, as Hank, turns in a surprisingly riveting performance as well, proving his ability to be the focus of a film, as opposed to the usual accessory. In the end, it's through Hank that we see the price people can pay for their folly. 

In one of the most interesting parallels, Hank and his wife (Bridgette Fonda), become the modern-day equivalent of Shakespeare's tragic couple, the Macbeths. Hank's wife is increasingly obsessed with the idea of the money, driving her husband to worse and worse deeds as the stakes get higher. Hank follows her instructions, even when his better side advises him against it. Ultimately, there is just as much blood on her hands as his. Perhaps Lady Mitchell will be trying to scrub herself clean, like her classic counterpart, in the aftermath of "A Simple Plan." 

It's not much of a stretch. What's truly clear in the aftermath is that it really is the simple things in life that matter -love, friendship, trust, compassion - and no amount of wealth is worth throwing them away for. Then again, you don't know what you've got until it's gone. Maybe this will make you think twice. Doug Levy

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1 comment:

  1. Great review. Very underrated movie, and has got a excellent cast.


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