A Simple Plan (1998) / Thriller-Drama

MPAA Rated: R for violence and language
Running Time: 120 min.

Cast: Bill Paxton, Billy Bob Thornton, Bridget Fonda, Gary Cole, Brent Briscoe
Director: Sam Raimi
Screenplay: Scott B. Smith (based on his novel)

Review published August 12, 1998

Thrillers. It's what we call movies that try to reel you in to an intricate, edge-of-your-seat plot and dazzle you with twists and turns to keep you guessing what will happen next. Typically thrillers are judged by their ability to surprise you and keep you off guard. If you guess what's going to happen, you won't find it a very good film, while surprise endings make you leave the theater with a smile. A good thriller will have characters you can feel for, but at their heart, thrillers are an exercise in technique over character studies.

Along comes A Simple Plan, which at its heart has a been-there-done-that plot with little surprises, but with a stronger emphasis on character development to the point where it holds your interest in what happens to the characters even when you know every step before it happens. Call this film an anti-thriller.

Two brothers and a buddy go out hunting one day in a natural reserve and uncover a downed airplane under several feet of snow. Upon internal inspection, one of the brothers finds a bag which just happens to be filled with over $4 million in cash. The three decide to split the money, but one of the brothers insists on holding on to it before everyone gets their share in order for some time to pass to see if anyone will suspect them. Throughout the course of protecting their stash, they are subjected to murders, double-crosses, paranoia, and much unpleasantness. Now it appears the FBI is on the case and there are a lot of loose ends strewn about to catch them with.

This film is more interesting for its use of good people as the bad guys and for forcing the viewer to adopt the position of essentially rooting for criminals. Scott B. Smith (The Ruins) adapts this screenplay from his book, and features very sympathetic characters and realistic motivations. Sam Raimi (The Quick and the Dead, Army of Darkness) thankfully subdues his usual emphasis on style over substance for one of his best directorial performances to date, evoking quality acting especially from the always excellent Billy Bob Thornton (Armageddon, Primary Colors),who received an Academy Award nomination.

The sympathy for the characters turns into a bit of a double-edged sword as you end up caring for the characters, but that same sympathy will ultimately leave you feeling dissatisfied with the ending. Credit A Simple Plan for having the guts to make us care for the characters, even if it doesn't have the brains to make the plot original.

Qwipster's rating:

2014 Vince Leo