Montreal Film Journal


Some midwestern state, New Year's Eve. Hank and Jacob Mitchell meet at their father's grave. They're not very close, they're so different, but their dad made them swear to visit him together every year. Hank's an average working man, married with a kid on the way. His wife Sarah works in a library, and their life is comfy but modest. So his Jacob, his underachieving but well intended sibling, unemployed and unmarried. With his ugly haircut and spectacles, he seems to be a goofy guy, but that doesn't mean he doesn't have any worries. On that day, he brings his drinking buddy Lou with him. The guy can be pretty annoying, he has bad habits, he's not too bright but hey, Jacob likes to hang with him. These people are just average Americans with their little flaws and all, but if you were to ask them, they'd tell you they're decent, honest people.

Then they find 4.4 million dollars in a crashed plane, and things get more complicated. No one knows it's there, no one would know they took it, right? But what if... Hank still has doubts, so he lays out his plan: he'll hide the money till the plane is discovered. If people are looking for the cash, he'll burn it and it'll all be forgotten, but if no one mentions the missing loot, they'll split it and have a blast. They're all sure this money will bring them all they ever wanted, but what are they willing to do to hold on to it? This is one of the questions brought up by this dark morality tale about greed, guilt and the evil lurking in every one of us. It was written by Scott B. Smith, adapting his bestseller of the same name. Not only is the premise intriguing, but it leads to many more twists. This could be just another thriller, but what's impressive is how it always remains intelligent and believable. Everything happens for a reason.

You also have to credit director Sam Raimi, who wouldn't seem like the right guy for this rather serious material. Hey, this is the same guy who made the "Evil Dead" series and "Darkman", some of the coolest exploitation films there is. Actually, if you're a diehard fan of his like myself, you might be disappointed at first by his latest. Don't expect much of his signature daredevil camerawork, or lots of humor or gore either. But that doesn't mean this ain't a brilliant picture. The winter photography is breath-taking, Danny Elfman's score is great and every scene is extremely well crafted. Raimi expertly builds up the tension through the film until the wrenching finale. The cast also delivers superior acting. Bill Paxton plays the righteous but cornered Hank, with Bridget Fonda as his loving but demanding wife. The most memorable performance still belongs to Billy Bob Thornton, who communicates painfully all of the desperation of the tortured Jacob, who thought he had nothing to lose. "A Simple Plan" is truly an exceptional film; it's the most gripping American thriller since the Coen brothers' "Fargo".