Combustible Celluloid
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With: Bill Paxton, Bridget Fonda, Billy Bob Thornton
Written by: Scott B. Smith, based on his own novel
Directed by: Sam Raimi
MPAA Rating: R for violence and language
Running Time: 121
Date: 09/11/1998

A Simple Plan (1998)

4 Stars (out of 4)

In Plane Sight

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

One of the best attributes of the genre known as "film noir" is that the main character is given a choice, which he usually takes, that leads him into the dark underworld where nothing is ever the same again. Usually this choice involves dangerous sex or dirty money. In the excellent new film A Simple Plan, directed by Sam Raimi, and adapted by Scott B. Smith from his own book, the characters not only make the fatal choice, but are constantly asking more questions and considering all the different possibilities available to them.

A Simple Plan has Hank (Bill Paxton), his brother Jacob (Billy Bob Thornton), and Jacob's friend Lou (Brent Briscoe) accidentally finding a crashed plane with $4 million in cash inside. Jacob and Lou want to keep it, but Hank is not so sure. Hank's condition is that he keeps it all himself until the plane is found in the Spring. At that point, they can split it up.

But Hank and his wife Sarah (Bridget Fonda) keep revising the plan, keep coming up with new scenarios. And, like ripples in a pond, each time the plan changes, more ripples occur. At the same time, the two brothers find themselves in a kind of relationship they never had before, and many secrets are revealed. The two actors, Paxton and Thornton, play their parts with amazing and painful subtlety.

This style doesn't sound like the work of Sam Raimi, who is usually known for his kinetic genre films in which his camera moves quickly, smoothly, and abruptly, in a frenzy of filmmaking. Much of Raimi's early work is like a court jester version of John Woo or Sam Peckinpah. For A Simple Plan however, Raimi focuses on more realistic violence--violence that has consequences. The movie makes beautiful use of white snow, contrasted with black crows sitting on sinister, spidery tree branches.

In the finished film, the characters come alive. We're plunged intelligently and realistically into their small-town lives. When we're into the story, we willingly and easily go with them. A Simple Plan reminded me of movies by Fritz Lang (Scarlet Street, The Big Heat), and of the books of Jim Thompson. A Simple Plan is a great film, and a major leap forward in the career of Sam Raimi.

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