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  Simple Plan, A Ill Fortune
Year: 1998
Director: Sam Raimi
Stars: Bill Paxton, Bridget Fonda, Billy Bob Thornton, Brent Briscoe, Jack Walsh, Chelcie Ross, Becky Ann Baker, Gary Cole, Bob Davis, Peter Syvertsen, Tom Carey, John Paxton, Marie Mathay, Paul Magers, Joan Steffand, Jill Sayre, Wayne A. Everson, Timothy Storms
Genre: Drama, ThrillerBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: It is December the 31st and Hank (Bill Paxton) is planning to spend a quiet New Year's Eve in with his heavily pregnant wife Sarah (Bridget Fonda), but before that in the afternoon he sets out with his brother Jacob (Billy Bob Thornton) into the snowy Minnesota countryside on an errand. Complicating matters slightly is the presence of Jacob's best friend Lou (Brent Briscoe) who Hank has reservations about, especially when Lou makes no secret of his resentment of Hank's college education, not that it has done anything more for him than land him working as an assistant at a local store, a job that pays the bills but has few prospects. But what if there was a chance to change all that? What if out there in the snow was a crashed plane containing millions of dollars?

And what if the three of them find it, then face a dilemma whether to turn it in or keep it? So much for the dilemma, Lou quickly convinces Jacob that keeping it is the only path to take, it will solve all their problems, though if you've ever seen, ooh, I dunno, every thriller ever you will be predicting this lapse in morality will send them to some form of doom, whether that be death and destruction or simply seriously reduced circumstances was all up the the screenwriter. It could be both of course, and it was clear everyone making this thought they had another Fargo on their hands - director Sam Raimi being good friends with the Coen Brothers - yet it didn't play out that way, and a cult following was pretty much all A Simple Plan could muster.

Better that than nothing, of course, and the film does have some strong adherents who responded to its tale of simple folk struggling between nobility and greed, though as it turned out everyone except Paxton's Hank was not allowed much shading in their personalities, and that could give rise to being patronising, with Jacob especially rather backward all the better to see to it that the plan of the title was not going to work out in any way beneficially for any of them. This left you watching a slow motion car crash, though figuratively rather than literally, and how much you appreciated that depended plenty on how much satisfaction you took from looking down on characters we were in the privileged position of knowing were fucking up in a major way.

Indeed, only Hank is cursed with this knowledge too, and he seems powerless to prevent the forces of chaos and sheer bad luck interfering with his simple plan. We cannot even guarantee that should he have found the money himself, leaving only one person to keep the secret, it would have worked out fine for him, it's simply not that kind of universe he is existing in, it's one which will take every opportunity to punish any slip, be it big or small, and there are no small slip ups here as far as we could perceive. The trouble with that was, in spite of a low key ensemble of fine acting just colourful enough to keep us interested, with everyone making their way through a world where the massively judgemental Old Testament God was very much alive and well, how much satisfaction could most viewers take from seeing a situation descend into a morass of bad choices and irresistable evil?

It was all too much, and the coincidences and crazy behaviour of the central trio that put paid to their fragile dreams began to grow difficult to believe after the first person falls victim to their scheme. Would Hank and Jacob resort to murder so quickly, we have to ask? And the answer is, they would if they were in the original Scott Smith novel this was based on; Smith designed his story as a screenplay then adapted it into his bestselling book, and fans of that would note crucial differences between the pages - a compulsive read, incidentally - and the film where the care taken to build up characters was rather left to slow-paced conversations in effect more functional than affording the depth that reading chapter by chapter would. For a start, or for a finish in fact, they rose to two different crescendos, and the novel's was far more satisfying which had you regret Smith saw fit to change it, so what you were left with was a relentlessly depressing downfall thanks to relenting to tempting stupidity, and effective performances to bolster it. Music by Danny Elfman.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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Sam Raimi  (1959 - )

Precociously talented American director with a penchant for horror/fantasy and inventive camerawork. Raimi made a huge impact with his debut film The Evil Dead at the tender age of 22, a gory, often breathtaking horror romp made on a tiny budget with a variety of friends from his hometown of Detroit. Follow-up Crimewave was a comic misfire, but Evil Dead 2 and Army of Darkness were supremely entertaining, while tragic superhero yarn Darkman was Raimi's first time wielding a big budget.

Raimi showed a more serious side with the baseball drama For Love of the Game, thriller A Simple Plan and supernatural chiller The Gift, before directing one of 2002's biggest grossing films, Spider-Man. Spider-Man 2 was released in summer 2004, with Spider-Man 3 following two years later. He then returned to outright horror with the thrill ride Drag Me to Hell, and hit Wizard of Oz prequel Oz the Great and Powerful after that. On the small screen, Raimi co-created American Gothic and the hugely popular Hercules and Xena series. Bruce Campbell usually pops up in his films, as does his trusty Oldsmobile car.

 
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