Everything that is good about this movie is centered in the person of Billy Bob Thornton. After a lengthy debate on the way home as to the level of emotional realism of the movie, the day after I saw A Simple Plan, I had forgotten what movie I saw – indeed, all I could summon up was the simpleton’s face of Billy Bob. A Simple Plan has plenty to frustrate, and yet sort of plenty to interest. Even as you might not be caught up in the story, it’s still compelling enough to keep you watching. Oh, and as for the emotional realism – it’s all Billy Bob – not script or other actors at all. Fortunately, he is given a great deal of working space in the film and takes every inch of his screen time very seriously.
In a strange otherworldly casting maneuver, Bill Paxton (Twister, Titanic), is cast as the cuter, successful older brother of Thornton. Ostensibly, he’s the lead, but he slipped my mind in favor of savoring the nuances of Thornton’s character. He’s got a painfully sad understanding of life, and childlike ignorance of life as well. He’s really the best part of the movie, and the rest is sort of a Very Bad Things without the viscerality, without the psychotic glee. Also like Very Bad Things, A Simple Plan has a situationally uninvolved woman motivating much of the rampant self-destruction. What’s this alarming new trend in “edgy” filmmaking? Also, is everyone else as sick of Briget Fonda as I am? I don’t mean to rag on anyone but she’s pushing the limit here with irritating character (Jackie Brown) after another.
Danny Elfman’s music is cool and creepy and really fascinating. It’s not Boingo or Batman or the Simpsons – it’s like Seven meets Tales from the Crypt meets City of Angels. It’s as cool as the Montana (Minnesota?) snow layering the whole movie. It even sounds a bit like how I imagine the onset of craziness would sound.
A Simple Plan did little to inspire or amaze me beyond the two main elements (I can’t emphasize this enough, folks), Thornton & Elfman. The supporting characters have interesting roles but were too supporting and not central enough for me to get as involved as I may have liked. The best friend of Billy Bob’s character was pretty cool, but so one note through the majority of his screen time that I didn’t care by the time he started to show some depth.
Director Sam Raimi usually doesn’t trouble himself with this kind of pablum – despite what you may have heard about Darkman and The Quick and the Dead, they are at least interesting if not also stylish. I think Raimi wanted this film to be another Fargo, and instead it was more like the Evil Dead (the 1st one) – all one actor’s charisma and nought else. Sigh. Despite their Oscar nominations for Billy Bob and for the screenplay, A Simple Plan will be no match for the competition. But it’s not a bad film, OK?
MPAA Rating R for violence and language.
Release date 12/4/98
Time in minutes 96
Director Sam Raimi
Studio Paramount Pictures