Retro Movie Review: 'A Simple Plan' (1998)

1998’s “A Simple Plan” features a simple premise that asks a simple question: what would you do? With that daring quandary it provokes its audience to slowly lose their innocence as they are faced with the prospective consequences of their answer.

As is so common in real life, trouble makes its presence known with a gentle nudge and this is the greatest deceit of all because the nature of such trouble exposes itself as not being all that dangerous to begin with. It's just a little bit of a bad thing, right? How the single speck of a bad, or grey deed can devolve into one more bad deed to cover the first is a gradual slide this film explores with intense study.

"A Simple Plan" revolves around Hank (Bill Paxton) and Jacob (Billy Bob Thornton), two brothers, who along with a slacker friend discover a crashed plane containing millions of dollars. Deciding what to do with the money and who should even make that call sets off a startling chain of events.

This is a brilliant character study that puts the audience in the character’s shoes and then slowly lets them sink in them. As its leads disappear into moral quicksand, the motives that started from a seemingly good place are gradually tested. The revelation of their true nature does not come in the decision they make about the money. It is in how far they are willing to go to keep it.

Sam Raimi grabs hold of something that has escaped similar fare. He allows the camera to sit back and witness the transpiring events without going overboard in his fascination with the plot's malaise development. He is not slow for the sake of adagio. Instead, he keeps the plot simmering, sometimes at a brisk pace and other times a slow boil.

Despite feeling like a Cohen brother’s production with its script and setting, Raimi's direction adds a sizzle factor it would have otherwise been missing in their stewardship. He swiftly side-steps a lot of their pitfalls by keeping the audience engaged with its steady progression of plot twists. The script's sharpness rests in how it avoids dragging out its “simple” tale.

While Bill Paxton grounds the story with his affable sensibility, the movie belongs to the performances of Bridget Fonda and Billy Bob Thornton. Fonda is exceptional as the crafty wife of Paxton’s character. Her portrayal of the intelligent and sly Beth, whose plain-Jane appearance hides a gritty go-getter, supplies the film’s unpredictable bent.

While Thornton turns in another marvelous performance, fully disappearing into the skin of Jacob - a simple man whose loyalty to his family and doing the right thing is dramatically tested. The film hinges on his and Fonda’s performances as their characters are its true wild cards and it flourishes because of them.

An astonishing foray into the mind of ordinary people; “A Simple Plan" probes its audience to consider their place inside its morality tale. Inquisitively enticing viewers to peer into their souls and wonder what they would do if they were faced with the same dilemma.

The simplicity of the story stirs a mental minefield of self-exploration, successfully turning the cerebral gears in a fantastical triumph that gives them a mighty return on their investment. Rating: 8.5/10

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