Tuesday, March 29, 2011

A Simple Good Film

You know what doesn't suck? 

You know what else doesn't suck? Things That Don't Suck, a fine film and book blog run by Bryce Wilson. This week, the mighty Bryce is putting together Raimifest, a cabin in the woods style party in blogathon form. Head on over for seven full days of grooviness, but first, here's my simple contribution:

A Simple Plan might be the saddest film I’ve seen in a long time.
I was not expecting as such. I knew it was Sam Raimi. I knew it was well-respected as a  tight story told with great winter atmosphere. I knew it starred my future husband Bill Paxton (when he’s old and wrinkly and blind I think I can successfully marry him without him even knowing it, and yes, I’ve thought this through thoroughly) and that Billy Bob Thorton was on the box cover. Once the credits rolled, I realized I’d get to hear a Danny Elfman score in a non-Tim Burton movie (and much like the Helena Bonham Carter Quandry, I figured that would probably produce better results) and have the excitement to look forward to a Gary Cole appearance.
I didn’t think this movie would break my heart.
Quick Plot: A New Year’s trip to their mother’s grave proves life-changing for Hank (the always dreamy Bill Paxton) and Jacob (Billy Bob Thornton), two very different brothers who, along with Jacob’s town drunk pal Lou, discover a crashed plane and a mysterious bag filled with 4.4 million dollars in unmarked hundred dollar bills. After much tense discussion, the trio decides to split the cash once news of the crash comes and goes.

Much like that brilliant episode of The Simpsons, the men learn over the course of the film that dividing anything three ways--be it a Radioactive Man Edition 1 or fortune--is a surefire path towards disaster. The effects are a little more lasting here.
The story of A Simple Plan is written by Scott Smith, the same smartly horrific mind behind The Ruins. In a lot of ways, it’s none too complex but what Smith and Raimi do so well is create the perfect characters who would end up in a progressively more doomed situation with every decision they make post-money tease. Hank is presented as the brains of the three, the college grad with a lovely and expecting wife (Bridget Fonda), a real job, and the sense to plot their success. Sure, we can guess by the very nature of the film that it’s Hank who will have the biggest fall, but to watch his morals die with every choice he makes is absolutely fascinating, particularly when coupled with the subtle Lady Macbeth-ness of a partner who just wants what she could potentially have.

On the other side is Jacob, played by a then-lesser known Thornton as a walking tragedy. He’s a sad, seemingly not smart man with little ambition or hope for, well, anything in life. There are probably some great lessons in screenwriting somewhere in the film in how Hank and Jacob are portrayed. Without too much specific expository conversations, we get the full family portrait of these men as brothers, a lifetime of latent resentment on Jacob‘s part in response to Hank’s seemingly foreign superiority. Even those who simply despise Thorton and his fear of antique furniture will probably soften during his big revelatory scene, a truly uncomfortable car talk where he recounts the truth behind his only real romance. 

So yes, the characterization inside A Simple Plan is top notch. Pair that with a tight story that snowballs into horrors and you have a fairly incredible slice of winter horror.
High Points
From the very first scene, we get the precise dynamics of Hank, Jacob, and Lou, something that always feels believable and provides an instant understanding for us of who these men are and how they fit together

No spoilers here, but the final shots and ultimate finale are quite brilliant in a sort of ironic twisty way you often get in great short stories
Low Points

Lessons Learned
In addition to producing vitamins and soreness, breastfeeding might provide you with a brand new sense of Shakespearean villainy
Always ask to see a badge

Because I’m someone that gets easily confused, I often mixed up A Simple Plan with the Coen Brothers’ Blood Simple. I’m simple like that, perhaps. At the same time, having now SEEN both films, I feel unconsciously smart because aside from a titular word, both have a similar style that could easily work on a tense double bill. A Simple Plan is, I’ve decided, a great film not just for its tense narrative, but for what it does with ‘real’ people caught up a mess of their own making. Sure, it’s a story told timeless times before, but Raimi and Smith truly do make something great out of it by focusing on how a basic thing like wanting a few million dollars could tear apart not only your life and freedom, but very sense of what kind of person you are capable of being. It may be one of the best tragedies I’ve seen in some time.

Head this way for more Raiminess!


  1. Thanks for the kind words and great contribution Emily.

    I've been waiting for someone to bring up the Billy Bob monologue. That'll break your heart.

    I'd definitely sign up for a Blood Simple/Simple Plan double feature.

  2. My absolute pleasure Bryce! And I will totally host the SImple Film Festival, providing we can have an intermission of Showgirls. Just 'cause.

  3. I love these morality tales where the characters are faced with huge, seemingly risk-free rewards for just stepping over the line a little bit. If you haven't seen them, check out John Dahl's Red Rock West or Danny Boyle's Shallow Grave as they feature very similar plots/themes in a very different style and setting. Oh, and never keep or accept a suitcase full of money.

  4. I'll definitely put Red Rock West on my list. Saw Shallow Grave a few years back, and while there's a lot to like about it, I found the characters (even my on/off boyfriend, Ewan McGregor) so detestable BEFORE the money that it didn't quite hit me the same way.

    What about a duffel bag of money?

  5. This is one of those films I have continuously tossed aside as unremarkable. I skipped around in this post as not to "spoil" myself. But I will say I will most definitely be checking this out based solely on your strong feelings.

  6. I didn't really have a burning desire either at first, since I'm generally (don't tell anyone) underwhelmed by Raimi. But this is genuinely a great film, one that does some great stuff with character and morality. I think you'll be pleasantly surprised.

  7. I saw this back when it was released and loved it, but when I tried to watch it on DVD some years later I found it kind of dull. Really must try and watch it again some time.

  8. Funny, my biggest fear was that it WOULD be dull but I was pretty caught up with it. I wonder how effective a rewatch is...