Volume 92, Issue 67

Wednesday, January 27, 1999

unaffirmative action


Some neurosis with your cake?

A plan for greatness

DJ competition turns the tables

Hermit emerges to a sticky web

A plan for greatness

Photo by Andrew Eccles
NOW BILLY BOB PULL THAT TOQUE DOWN, IT'S COLD OUTSIDE. Billy Bob Thornton joins Bridgette Fonda and Bill Paxton in A Simple Plan.

By Anthony Turow

Gazette Staff

Hypothetical question – if you discovered a downed aircraft containing $4.4 million in a gym bag, would you keep the money? This is the situation facing Hank (Bill Paxton), his brother Jacob (Billy Bob Thorton) and the town drunk Lou (Brent Briscoe), after they discover said plane in Sam Raimi's relentless A Simple Plan.

What they decide is to leave the money with Hank until the spring, when the snow melts and the plane can be discovered and assumed untouched. Then when everything has blown over, they'll divvy up the loot and leave town. A seemingly simple plan – hence the title.

What follows are a series of missteps which go fatally and unexpectedly awry. These are the moments which constitute one of the great pleasures of this movie – you have no idea where it's going to go next. The mundane can lead to the shocking and those who appear to represent the moral good are not always as they appear.

Credit goes to director Sam Raimi for his adept handling of the material. Graduating from such schlock classics as The Evil Dead and Darkman, Raimi's trademark hyper-kinetic lens work is all but gone, favouring instead a stationary camera. This is appropriate because Raimi's own personal style does not overpower the story. Instead, he has enough faith in the script and his actors to pull it off – and his cast is up to the task.

Especially outstanding is the unrecognizable Thorton as Jacob. His character is the epitome of an enigma.

At the beginning it's easy to dismiss Jacob as just another half-wit country bumpkin with a disregard for personal hygiene. As the movie progresses, however, he becomes a far more complex character with a wisdom surpassing that of his brother, Hank.

While everyone dismisses Jacob as a nobody, he pays far more attention than anyone gives him credit for. This is why it's so heartbreaking to see the disillusionment in his eyes, as the stress from the plan starts to take its toll on him.

He knows he will never lead a normal life, as society will refuse to quit labelling him as a reject, with or without money. Thorton makes this understanding painfully clear and in the process creates one of the most fully realized characters to grace film screens in recent years.

Also excellent is Bill Paxton as Jacob's brother Hank, the college educated, family man who tries to keep things from falling apart. Most interesting is the dynamic he shares with Jacob. They are two brothers who have grown so far apart, even a five minute conversation seems like an impossibility. Their relationship is the backbone of the film and Hank's empathetic demeanour towards his brother suggests someone who takes the virtues of family for granted.

In terms of pure visceral excitement, there is nothing better than A Simple Plan. In addition to being an excellent pot-boiler, it also features wonderful performances and more genuine surprises than any film in recent memory.

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Copyright The Gazette 1999