Hannah, Video Central (Columbus, OH)
A Simple Plan
“I like Sam Raimi thrillers. I like his horror-comedies too, but this and The Gift really stand out to me. He has an ability to utilize the setting in his stories, which is something that a lot of directors seem to overlook. I also generally like Billy Bob Thornton in things, though he seems like he is a bit of an asshole as a person.”
A Simple Plan was directed by the one and only Sam Raimi, who is best known for his uniquely shot horror-comedies like The Evil Dead, Army of Darkness, and Drag Me To Hell. He has also made some more traditional Hollywood fare in more recent years, like the initial Spider-Man trilogy and Oz: The Great and Powerful. I think many people forget that he went through a number of different genres over the middle portion of his career, like his action-western The Quick and The Dead and the standard sports drama For Love Of The Game. A Simple Plan, though well-regarded, isn’t associated as strongly with Raimi himself as many of his other movies.
The movie is based on a 1993 novel by Scott B. Smith, who also provided the screenplay adaptation for the film. Surprisingly, the only other screenplay work he has done was for the 2008 film The Ruins, despite how highly acclaimed his work was on A Simple Plan.
The cast of the movie includes Billy Bob Thornton (The Ice Harvest, Sling Blade, Bad Santa, The Man Who Wasn’t There), Bill Paxton (Slipstream, Predator 2, Frailty, Aliens), Bridget Fonda (Lake Placid, Monkeybone), and Gary Cole (Harvey Birdman: Attorney At Law, The West Wing, Office Space)
The music was done by the acclaimed composer Danny Elfman, who is one of the most recognizable scorers working today. His work on such films as Batman, Batman Returns, The Nightmare Before Christmas, and Beetlejuice have cemented him as one of the most unique and distinctively-styled composers out there.
The cinematography for A Simple Plan was done by Alar Kivilo, who also shot such films as Copper Mountain, The Blind Side, The Ice Harvest, Frequency, and Hart’s War.
A Simple Plan was nominated for two Academy Awards: best adapted screenplay and best supporting actor (Billy Bob Thornton). It raked in a number of other accolades, including SAG and Golden Globe nominations for Thornton, along with widespread recognition for the score and the screenplay. The film in its totality was nominated for such accolades as the Saturn Award, the Edgar Allan Poe Award, and the Broadcast Film Critics Association Award for Best Picture.
This movie took a number of years to actually get made after its initially publication as a novel, thanks to a number of changes to the cast and crew. One early iteration had Nicolas Cage on board to star, with Ben Stiller directing. Later on, names like Brad Pitt, John Boorman, Juliette Lewis, and John Dahl were attached at one point or another before the final cast and crew listings were settled.
A Simple Plan currently holds a 7.5 rating on IMDb, along with Rotten Tomatoes scores of 90% (critics) and 81% (audience). Despite the film’s acclaim, it failed to make back its reported $30 million budget, raking in just over $16 million in its domestic theatrical run.
First off, I have to note that Bill Paxton gets to show off some of his real talent in this movie, which always seems to come to the surface when he isn’t hamming it up in a sci-fi movie. Billy Bob Thornton might be the one who got the most acclaim out of this movie (and it was certainly deserved), but Paxton shouldn’t be overlooked. The way his character turns from being a staunch moral center to a fully corrupted criminal at break-neck speed is really astounding, and Bridget Fonda plays a fantastic Lady MacBeth in his ear throughout his fall.
“You work for the American Dream, you don’t steal it.”
“Then this is even better!”
There is a historically tight relationship between Sam Raimi and the Coen Brothers (they worked together on both Crimewave and The Hudsucker Proxy), and this movie really feels like Raimi’s take on a Coen Brothers style movie. The atmospheric similarities to Fargo are impossible not to mention, especially given that Fargo came out just two years prior to A Simple Plan. Reportedly, Raimi even learned how to effectively film in the frigid elements thanks to the Coens. Despite the similar snowy aesthetics and criminal plots, the two films are very different sorts of movies. A Simple Plan is very emotional in its focus on the characters, and stays grounded in reality throughout the story. The characters in Fargo are a bit cartoonish, and create an atmosphere that feels somewhat more exaggerated than the world we really live in, but not so much so that it drifts into a realm that is beyond belief.
A Simple Plan might not be a great movie, but it is certainly a very good one. The performances from Paxton, Thornton, and Fonda are all notable, and the dialogue is really spot-on. The pacing is unfortunately a bit too slow if you ask me, and the story also never builds up quite enough tension for what the film seemed to require (at least, not until the explosive climax and conclusion). Raimi’s shots and imagery are a bit heavy-handed (the birds lack any kind of subtlety, for instance), but the film still looks great on the whole. Overall, it is an entertaining film to watch unfold thanks to the performances and the dialogue.
A Simple Plan is basically Coen Brothers Lite: it has the same gist of the original, but not all of the content. There is a lot good going on here, and it certainly stands on its own, but it inevitably incites comparisons to Fargo, which is just a much better crafted film from top to bottom. I definitely recommend checking it out, as it is a solid dramatic crime thriller with some great acting and dialogue on all fronts. It is also thoroughly emotionally taxing, and the last third of the film is genuinely powerful.