[box cover]

A Simple Plan

Paramount Home Video

Starring Bill Paxton, Billy Bob Thornton,
and Bridget Fonda

Written by Scott B. Smith (based on his novel of the same name)
Directed by Sam Raimi

Back to Review Index

Back to Quick Reviews

"Sometimes good people do evil things." This advertising tag for A Simple Plan may come off like a brooding philosophical conundrum, but instead simply illustrates the movie's serious narrative failing. Hank Mitchell (Bill Paxton) is, supposedly, one of these "good people." Living his modest but happy life in rural Minnesota, Hank — although college educated — works in a feed store to support his pregnant wife (Bridget Fonda). Everybody likes Hank. He's a good man.

One day Hank, his brother Jacob (Billy Bob Thornton), and Jacob's crude friend Lou (Brent Briscoe), stumble upon the snow-covered wreckage of a small airplane. Inside this plane is a dead body and a duffel bag. Inside the duffel bag is nearly $5 million. Hanks wants to turn it in. Lou wants to keep it. Jacob, a simpleton who seems to tiptoe the line of social retardation (Thornton plays him like an uncomely Forrest Gump), sides with Lou. Cornered, Hank agrees not to turn the money in, but insists they hide their discovery until the spring thaw. This way, they can wait and see if anyone comes after the money, and determine whether there's a legitimate claim for it, or if it's dirty money, as they suspect. Reluctantly, Lou and Jacob agree.

Of course, in movies like A Simple Plan such simple plans never work out so simply. Later that day, when Hank poses the theoretical question to his wife, "Would you keep it?," she says no, it would be wrong, and they're happy anyway. When Hank pours the contents of the duffel onto the dining room table, she becomes obsessed with keeping it.

At her urging, Hank and Jacob return to the crash site early the next morning to return a small portion of the money, so it will look to the authorities as if no one has been there. On lookout, Jacob is approached by a local farmer, and he is so rattled by his dubious circumstances that he nervously clubs the farmer on the head with a lug wrench.

Up until this point, it's been easy to empathize with Hank's dilemma. Who wouldn't be tempted to keep an anonymous bag full of cash? Now there's been a murder — and a sloppy, stupid one at that. It turns out, Jacob didn't finish off the poor bastard, and when the farmer regains consciousness, Hank coolly, coldly smothers him. Hank chooses to cover up the crime, but is it to save his brother or his claim to the money? Either way, he has done an evil thing, which begs the question, is he still a good person? Was he ever a good person, or merely a bad one who had never been tested?

Regardless, at the half-hour mark A Simple Plan makes the alienating mistake of turning its hero into a bad guy, and never recovers. Are we to root for Hank to keep the money at any cost (this isn't the last murder he commits to do so)? Or are we to spend the next 90 minutes ruing the destructive influence of unbridled greed? Neither. An hour-and-a-half is too long to rue such an obvious concept, and Hank is too stupid to feel for as he incompetently covers his and his (increasingly, unbelievably crafty) brother's tracks.

I guess if you sense a streak of sociopathic avarice within yourself, you may be compelled by this story to it's convoluted, baffling conclusion. Otherwise, it's simply dull, and frequently, maddeningly trades logic for melodrama.

Director Sam Raimi has been craving mainstream success for years. Already a cult hero for his creative Evil Dead series, subsequent attempts at bigger movies have merely cemented his reputation as a cartoony niche filmmaker. A Simple Plan, seems to have changed all that, what with its sizable box office and even a highly suspect Oscar nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay (Thornton got nominated, too, for Best Supporting Actor, and deservedly, even if his character was bungled by the writer).

All Raimi really established, however, was the enormous gulf between himself and his far more talented former colleagues, Joel and Ethan Coen, who turned essentially the same subject matter into a small masterpiece in 1996 with Fargo. Both and Fargo cover the same territory. Set in chilly climes, both stories illustrate how a family man can be driven to ruin by greedily grabbing for more than his otherwise contenting lot will allow — and how most crimes are foiled by the stupidity of the criminals themselves.

Fargo succeeds not only by using humor to engage, but by using as proxy to its sordid tale a uniquely unconflicted protagonist — a pregnant small-town sheriff who is perfectly happy with a simple life, whether that involves eating at a nice buffet or one of her husband's wildlife paintings being selected for a two-cent stamp. She is a moral control against a world where a successful car salesman feels compelled to orchestrate the kidnapping of his own wife so he can finance a commercial parking lot. A Simple Plan offers no such current of interest. There are no qualities in any of its principal characters to respect, admire, enjoy, or relate to. Neither is there any humor, style, or originality in Raimi's point-of-view towards the whole tale — even Danny Elfman's score is uncharacteristically prosaic. I guess there may be some merit in such a straightforward telling of potentially repellent material, but not enough to temper the boredom of enduring it.

Presented in 1.85:1 widescreen and both 5.1 Dolby Digital and 2.0 Dolby Surround. No extras. Trailers, keep case.

— Gregory P. Dorr

Get it at Reel.com

Back to Review Index

Back to Quick Reviews

Back to Main Page

© 1998-99, The DVD Journal