3 1/2 Stars
In this little thriller of a morality play, good ol’ Arkansas boy Billy Bob Thorton gives a riveting (Academy Award-nominated) performance as good ol’ Midwestern boy Jacob. On a snowy afternoon hunting trip, Jacob, his middle-class brother Hank (Bill Paxton), and his buddy Lou (Brent Briscoe) stumble upon the scene of a plane crash. Inside the private aircraft, they discover the dead body of the pilot and over $4 million in cash. After agonizing deliberation, the men develop a “simple plan” to keep the money -- a simple plan that goes horribly, fatally wrong as they descend into a quagmire of greed, fear, betrayal and outright murder.
Director Sam Raimi, known for his hilarious Evil Dead horror series and the campy, comic book-y Darkman, works from Scott B. Smith’s adapatation of his own novel to deliver an uncharacteristically quiet film about Small Town, USA and its residents’ inflated dreams of escape. Under Raimi’s spare direction, the well-trod story becomes a relentlessly suspenseful character study with gripping plot twists.
Jacob, dim-witted, unemployed and in dire need of a shampoo and dental plan, never becomes the cardboard-cutout countrified cartoon less-agile actors would play. In Thorton’s complex portrayal, the pathetic, character is at turns as slow as molasses and as strangely crafty as a fox. Bridget Fonda gives the film’s other standout performance as Hank’s wife, Sarah. At first, the voice of reason, morality, and conscience, Sarah quickly becomes the most amoral of plotters.
In an era where dark is used for dark’s sake, (see: Very Bad Things), A Simple Plan shines; the film’s bleak, nihilistic view of human nature is counterpointed by the sensitive, sometimes heartwrenching performances of the adept cast.
If you like A Simple Plan, you might want to check out Shallow Grave, The Treasure of The Sierra Madre, MacBeth (1941).