A Simple Plan (Sam Raimi, 1998)
[originally posted 3Apr2000]
When this movie was released, Billy Bob Thornton half-jokingly referred to it in an interview as “the feel-bad movie of this Christmas season.” And he wasn’t that far wrong about it. This is pretty much the classical metatragedy, where the true evil lies in the ability of men to become corrupt through no real fault of their own.
Hank Mitchell (Bill Paxton) and his brother Jacob (Thornton), along with their friend Lou (Brent Briscoe, a longtime Thornton collaborator), are together when they discover a wrecked plane containing, in part, $4.3 million. The three devise a plan that will, conceivably, allow them to keep the money—assuming no one comes looking for it.
Murphy’s Law plays as much a part as the eventual, and necessary, corruption of the three conspirators, along with Hank’s wife (Bridget Fonda). Anything that can go wrong does, and everyone involved soon finds they’re far deeper into this mess than they ever thought they could get.
It’s got a lot of potential, and it’s been a while since we’ve seen a really great metatragedy (thanks in no small part to the cynicism in American society today). And A Simple Plan almost, but not quite, gets there. Much of the reason for the movie’s failure can be traced directly to Bill Paxton, who more than once seems to forget everything he learned in acting school and comes off as wooden and unconvincing.
That said, Thornton, Fonda, and Briscoe are all fantastic, and make the movie worth watching, at least. It’s not the Great American Metatragedy, but it comes closer than anything we’ve seen in the last half-century or so. ***