A Simple Plan – Sam Raimi – 1998

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Sam Raimi’s A Simple Plan is a hellish nightmare of a film. It’s dressed up as a Coen Bross style Hitchcock thriller, but this film is so much more Raimi than all that. It lacks the humor of a Coen film and the identifiable or empathetic protagonists of most Hitchcock films. No, A Simple Plan is a hate-filled treatise on greed, not unlike Raimi’s Drag Me To Hell. In that film the curse of greed manifests in a literal demon, creating a remove from our everyday reality, but in ASP, Raimi shoves verisimilitude of reality in our face. The performances are incredibly humanistic career bests from Thornton, Paxton and Fonda.

The plot is simple. Three yokels find a crashed plane with four-million plus dollars inside. They form a pact to keep the money till spring, and if no one is searching for it, split it three ways and run away. The seeds of greed have been sewn.

Raimi takes an incredibly righteous glee in putting the screws to these types of characters, and as in drag me to hell, the greed in these people is not those un-identifiable wall street hot-rods, it’s a seed accountant, or a loan officer.

Bill Paxton is riveting as a man who becomes more and more involved in a series of lies and murders involving his brother and their friend. In a truly awful moment, Raimi shoots Paxton’s face as he suffocates a man in the snow. No wide shot. We see only a close up of Paxton as the man dies, choking under his hands. This scene is as horrifying as any moment in any of Raimi’s more overtly Horror films. In this moment, and as a testament to Paxton’s awesome ability, we see the man become evil.

From here on Paxton and his wife begin a series of deceits that end up in murder after murder. Bridget Fonda is stellar and in one scene, a moment that takes place just after her child has been born she is absolutely terrifying. You’ll know it when you see it. Having her the lioness with cub only adds to the sick drama of this whole tragedy. You know when these dumb fucks open this bag there’s no happy ending. So why does it hurt so much? Raimi and writer Scott Smith and the actors make these greedy little men so real, so genuine.

Billy Bob Thornton wears some strange, out of date, overgrown Elvis haircut. He has prosthetic teeth in that make him look hideous and taped glasses from the seventies, which I believe may have been his fathers, though it’s not explicitly stated. Jacob is a simple man who only ever wanted the farm, but his father mortgaged it so Paxton could go to college. Jacob both looks up to and resents his younger brother, and it’s this conflict that makes the whole film so sad. It’s this simple man’s fall that hurts the most.

Their father is revealed to have killed himself, one in a series of revelations that the seemingly simple Jacob bequeaths to his brother. The specter of their father, a man who each seems to admire ending his life in hopelessness only adds to the doomed nature of this morality play. Theirs is a cursed bloodline.

Brent Briscoe is great as Lou. The character is a bit under-written as just kind of jackass, but Briscoe finds some great humanity for Lou, especially in tape-recording scene that ends in a shooting.

After having watched this film, I have to say that it lands high on Raimi’s filmography, with my only complaint being, I really didn’t like any of the characters, and while I suppose the point is to laugh at these evil people getting what is coming to them, I find the whole ordeal super-bleak. But, hey, the poison of greed is deadly.

Raimi resists most horror tropes with the exception of the death-foretelling blackbirds that watch our characters omnisciently throughout the film. Removed from the action, they judge the sinners. When the birds fly directly at the camera, directly at Hank, the birds warn him. Jacob asks him “Did you see those birds?”

 

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