A Simple Plan Review

If you found a bag containing $4.4 million, seemingly abandoned in a crashed plane, what would you do? That very question of morality, honesty and integrity is at the centre of A Simple Plan; a film that manages to have a remarkably basic premise yet handle it with such genius that I feel it was one of the best films of 1998.

Hank (Bill Paxton) and Jacob (Billy Bob Thornton) are two brothers who, along with their friend Lou (Brent Briscoe), discover a crashed plane in the nature preserve near their home in the snowy Midwest. After finding the plane in this vast blanket of nothingness, they soon discover its secret: a bag of ransom money, to the tune of $4.4 million. And, without hesitation, they take it.

What follows is a fascinating character study, a piece of drama that shows the viewer how money – the very lifeblood and fabric of our society – can corrupt even the most innocent and unassuming of men. A Simple Plan's protagonists are "your average Joes", three men who work simple jobs and live simple lives surrounded by a plain and neutral environment. Their struggle for money, however, is highlighted by this unexpected windfall; their bounty will free themselves from financial worry, instead allowing them to indulge themselves for once. Hank's wife, for example, is expecting their first baby any day now and a third of $4.4 million would give their child the best possible start in life – such a possibility seems too hard to refuse for Hank and Sarah (Bridget Fonda). Jacob, his slightly retarded brother, has dreams of owning a farm like their father did; his friend, Lou, has several debts that need paying off. When viewed in context, the three characters see the bag of money as a miracle, a gift from God...but then they soon realise that if the police ever realised that the money was missing, they'd be in serious trouble. Is it worth risking a prison sentence for a bag of money?

A Simple Plan is directed by Sam Raimi, a filmmaker who began his career with the stylistic yet absurd horror trilogy Evil Dead. This film, however, is made with a mature sleight of hand – a far cry from both Evil Dead and the more recent Spider-Man. Raimi paces the film expertly, introducing the protagonists and then allowing them to slowly morph into money-driven criminals as things start to go belly-up. As with all great tragedies, the lives of those involved very quickly disintegrate...

It would be foolish to go into any further detail about the plot; suffice to say, Scott B. Smith, the film's writer, skilfully establishes the archetypal American Joe and then shows how "the American Dream" can corrupt any man. After finding the money, Lou describes it as "the American Dream in a goddamn gym bag", before Hank bitterly replies "You work for the American Dream, you don't steal it". Soon, however, Hank too becomes corrupted by the money's power and all three protagonists descend to desperate means to keep their share and evade the law.

The performances are extraordinary – career-best work from all involved. Paxton's husband and father-to-be is a man who shares traits with all of us, yet he skilfully shows how easy it can be for that to all change within a single day. Thornton's Jacob is a tragic figure, a man who just wants to be loved and feels that money is the only way to get a girl of his own – it came as no surprise when Thornton received a Best Supporting Actor nomination from the Academy. Even Brent Briscoe, an actor who I haven't come across before, delivers an honest and rounded performance as a man who is desperately trying to pay off his debts and maintain a relationship with his wife. Likewise, Fonda delivers one of her finest performances as a pregnant wife whose innocence is soon changed to lust when she realises just how the money could change her life.

Cinematographer Alar Kivilo manages to paint the film's story against a beautiful snowy landscape – many people have likened A Simple Plan to the Coens' Fargo, and although both films share fantastic cinematography, it is Raimi's picture that is the better of the two. It may lack the incisive humour of Fargo, but A Simple Plan is a film with far more heart and is all the more resonant because of it.

The Disc
Appearing for the first time on R2 UK DVD, A Simple Plan has been released by Universal on poor disc that doesn't do the film justice whatsoever.

The menus are animated with clips and music from the film; they are very easy to navigate.

In a word: average. Print damage is evident at times, indicating that Universal didn't even bother to give the picture a quick once-over before releasing it on DVD – as a result, slight blemishes and scratch marks rear their ugly heads. Furthermore, the transfer itself is quite soft and lacking in detail. Considering this is a 2005 release, I consider the video quality to be a big disappointment and inexcusable considering that this is a relatively mainstream studio film.

Again, average. A Simple Plan is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo, lacking the extra sonic depth of a surround-sound mix. Granted, the film is a dialogue-driven drama, but a 5.1 soundtrack would have greatly added to the ambience of the film. Gripes aside, the Stereo track is crisp and clear, with no technical problems to report.

The sole extra is the film's theatrical trailer – disappointing.

A Simple Plan is a wonderfully intricate drama that I never tire of; I am delighted that it has finally surfaced on R2 DVD, even though Universal could have presented it with a lot more care and attention. Grumbles aside, this disc is worth the price for the film alone.

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Last updated: 01/05/2018 23:22:08

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