A Simple Plan

* * * *

Crime doesn't pay. Particularly in a world where the rule of Murphy's Law is absolute. That's the lesson learned by the characters in the well-acted, brilliantly written and intensely gripping drama, A Simple Plan.

Hank Mitchell (Bill Paxton) has a good, if not perfect, life. He has a decent job, a loving wife (Bridget Fonda), and a baby on the way. But all of that is about to change.

One day Hank, his dimwitted brother, Jacob (Billy Bob Thornton), and Jacob's dimwitted drinking buddy, Lou (Brent Briscoe), make an interesting discovery in the woods: a crashed plane containing over $4 million in presumably dirty money.

After some minor deliberation, the three men tentatively decide to keep the money. And, wouldn't you know it, things invariably start to go wrong. As the walls start to close in, the men must not only struggle to keep their stories straight, but also face the pressures of greed and doubt which tempt them to turn against one another.

Director Sam Raimi, best known for his Evil Dead films, at first seems an unlikely choice to direct this much more traditional, character oriented thriller. However, here he shows a mastery of the subtle touch. He is able to create a tangible atmosphere of unease as what seemed to be a simple plan grows more and more convoluted over time.

The story of A Simple Plan, adapted from Scott B. Smith's novel, is well constructed. The many twists and turns throughout the film are reasonable, yet unexpected. The characters are strongly written as well. You get the sense that all of the characters here are constantly thinking (even though it's an activity that not all of them do well).

Billy Bob Thornton turns in yet another brilliant performance as the pathetic Jacob. Though there are some similarities between this role and his performance of Karl in Slingblade, he manages to make Jacob a unique creation that stands on his own. At first, Jacob is seemingly just a dim bulb...but there's much more to this character than what first appears.

Billy Bob Thornton isn't the only one here who can act...and this picture is full of examples. Bridget Fonda deserves kudos for her sharp portrayal of perhaps the craftiest character in the film. Bill Paxton does an excellent job as the desperate everyman. And Gary Cole delivers a good turn as Baxter, an FBI agent who is hunting down the lost plane.

With a fascinating screenplay, masterful direction, and excellent performances, A Simple Plan is a truly suspenseful drama, and one of the year's best films.

[R - violence and language] (Paramount)


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