Do you ever feel evil?
A Simple Plan is directed by Sam Raimi and adapted to screenplay by Scott Smith from his own novel of the same name. It stars Bill Paxton, Billy Bob Thornton, Bridget Fonda, Brent Briscoe, Chelcie Ross and Jack Walsh. Music is by Danny Elfman and cinematography by Alar Kivilo.
The snowy wilds of Midwest America, and two brothers and one friend unearth a crashed plane in the snow that hosts one dead pilot and a duffel bag with over $4 million dollars stashed inside. It's moral quandary time. Keep the money as it's probably drug money anyway, tell the police, or sit on it and wait to see what happens? A decision is made, and it literally turns everyone's life upside down...
Scott B. Smith's novel was perfect for a filmic adaptation, in essence it's classic noir with its small town Americanna setting that houses a moral twist of fate that ultimately sees the town implode from within. How refreshing to find the author adapting his own source material, and not only that, to find that it has also gotten a grade "A" production from Raimi and his team.
The story is in all truth simple, it asks the characters, and us, what to do when finding so much cash? Fate meant they found it and fate then dealt its moral card, from the point the decision is made, nothing will ever be the same. The tale spins the three male characters, and one pregnant wife, into a vortex of bad decision making and misery. Enter paranoia, greed, murder, panic and a whole host of other bad things to upset the equilibrium that once dominated their mundane, but safe, lives.
Director Raimi, who apparently received coaching from his pals Joel and Ethan Coen about how best to work in the snow (the Fargo likeness is well noted by critics), ensures the coldness of the landscape dovetails perfectly with the untangling world of the protagonists. With the frost bitten locale acting as the extra character, and as an accomplice as it happens, Raimi slots in memorable imagery to tickle away at the senses. Animals figure most darkly, with crows and a fox in the hen house beautifully endorsing the themes of decay and the need to kill to survive. While the pacing is sublime, Raimi using a slow dripping tap method that tightens the screws until violence jolts the story, and us, to the precipice.
As a character piece it's superbly mounted, where Raimi is indebted to a four pronged delivery of acting performances of some substance. Thornton was rightly lauded for his turn as the slower brother to Paxton's (excellent) all American nice guy, but Briscoe as the "town drunk" best friend and Fonda as the inverted femme fatale wife, also deserve great praise for realisation of characters that bring this Shakespearean neo-noir to vivid life.
Elswhere the tech credits are thematically notable. Kivilo's photography is in sync with Raimi's ideals about the snowy backdrop playing a key part, and Elfman's score, while not something to interest potential newcomers to his work, works very well as blunderbuss percussion is replaced by appropriate woodwind that flits about the wooded surrounds with foreboding glee.
At the end of the day it comes down to quality of story telling, in that regard A Simple Plan is a first class production. If you haven't seen the film or read the novel, then I certainly would recommend the novel to read first as there are inevitable tone downs in the movie. But that is not detrimental to the film's worth, for the visual version of Smith's novel is engrossing, chilling and poignantly bleak. And away from his Indies, it's still Raimi's most accomplished film so far, and he really should consider doing more neo-noir in the future. 9/10