Scott Smith's novel "A Simple Plan" was, and always has been a favorite novel of mine. It's one of those novels where it holds you in suspense, keeps you reading till the wee hours of morning. Smith created characters who were incredibly involving and that you could relate to and be scared for. It's a gripping, cold and very dark book that builds a level of suspense of which I'd never read or felt before. The possibility of terror was there every step of the way; it built up, step by step, and just when you think it's all over, there is a terrifying conclusion.
I have been highly anticipating the release of this film since when it first went into production. The story centers around three men in the Minnesota(in the book it's Toledo, Ohio); Hank, a college educated man who spends his days working as an accountant in the town's grain store; his brother Jacob, a slow-witted man who may be more observant about his world than he lets on; and Lou, the town drunk. While driving in a nature preserve, a fox runs across the road, causing an accident. Jacob's dog runs after the fox and into the woods. When the men give chase, they come into an open patch in the forest. A snowball fight reveals a downed airplane; the pilot is long dead, but next to him is a very live 4.4 million dollars in cold cash.
Hank, played by Bill Paxton, along with his wife Sarah(Bridget Fonda) are well respected members of the town; Sarah has a baby on the way. If they can simply lay low till Spring, and wait to see if anyone claims the money, they'll be home free. But is it that simple? What will he do to keep the money? What will his wife think? I liked the way that, at first, Hank looks for redemption or acceptance in the eyes of his wife. He's looking for acceptance. In the novel, Sarah slowly accepts the newfound wealth, then turns. In the film, she turns to acceptance very quickly from questioning. It's a compliment to Bridget Fonda that this quick turn is believable due to her wonderful performance. She's against the idea till she turns around and sees stack upon stack of cash; slowly the questioning glance melts away into happiness and shock. It's all in the acting, and throughout the film, this is a solid performance from an actress who I believe is giving stronger and stronger performances.
The film starts off a little slower and with a bit less force than the book did; after the men find the money the book almost instantly began to grind the pressure and tension stronger and stronger. The men think that they're home free. Of course, their simple plan goes awry when a local man is killed because he got too close to their truth. The body count begins to rise and before they know it, the group is over their head and trying to cover up too many mistakes. Then, suddenly, the group begins to lose members.
There are a lot of differences between the novel and the film. Where I personally felt that the novel was a gripping suspense story, the film is more of a drama with elements of suspense. It's really amazing how the writer of both the film and the novel has switched around scenes, taken bits out(including a few very major bits) and really has changed the overall feel of the story from dark to more somber, dramatic and even saddening. Although I felt the picture took a little time to get started, once it gets started, the film works suprisingly well as a morality piece; the sense of dread that the novel had throughout comes in, and the tension finally comes in, full-force.
These are people who have lived a simple life and simple existence. They live away from the nightly news and 4 million dollar lawsuits and 4 million dollar drug busts. As a character in this film says, "it's the American dream in a god damn gym bag." It's a film that shows how sudden wealth can turn the way people view the world around them into something horrible, evil. Hank and Sarah live a simple, repetitive existence. Sarah sees this as a way to escape a life of working at the library, coming home to make Hank the same dinner, but mostly, she sees it as a chance to give their child something more than they can offer alone. These are not the "movie bad guys" that we usually run into. These are characters that we can simpathize with.
But can we sympathize with them? At first, I didn't quite enjoy Paxton's performance as Hank. But as the film goes on, Paxton finds the right tone. At the end, I found that I liked the way that he played the character throughout the overall story. It worked, and in this film, Hank has to work for us to be able to go along with the film. I really, really liked Billy Bob Thornton, who is absolutely perfect as the troubled brother Jacob. Thornton really is one of the best actors working today, his performance in "Armageddon" making even that film at least interesting to watch. Here, he plays the role perfectly, the character may not be smart socially, but he knows what he observes in the people around him.
As the cover-up escalates, relationships are examined and re-examined. The money may have brought the two brothers speaking again, but the newfound partnership has them remembering the truth about their past, and the problems with money that their parents experienced, and whether or not what happened to them was an accident. The money brings out the worst in all of them, and although the film isn't always the suspense story that the book sometimes was, this film works extremely well as the lean dramatic narrative that it turned out to be. I would have liked some of the things that were left out from the book to be put in, but I think that the film, as it is, is lean and complex, and, maybe, it works well enough on it's own. That, and well, some of the scenes that were left out may have been a little too much for some audiences.
This is a very strong film from horror director Sam Raimi(famous for the "Evil Dead" series). Performances are strong all around, and director Scott Smith has fashioned an excellent, and for the most part, very tense morality play that gradually gains strong emotional force and impact. I think that Sam Raimi's direction is quite elegant and outstanding, showing that he is definitely a director with major talent and a major future ahead of him and hopefully, he will be offered larger projects that are just as strong as this small one.
VIDEO QUALITY: I wish Paramount had made all of their past discs this nicely. This is a goregous 1.85:1 anamorphic(something Paramount is doing again) transfer. The snowy landscapes look goregous; the image is clear and crisp. A totally "film-like" transfer. Colors are rich and vivid and contrast is fine. Blacks in the image are rich, natural and deep. The level of detail in the image is enjoyable as well: for instance, the intricate branches of the trees in the background don't look blurry, the detail of every branch can be made out. Even the scenes at night, such as the one towards the begining at the edge of the forest, are enjoyably well-defined and have crisp detail. There are no instances of problems or artifacts: no shimmering, no pixelization and there aren't any problems with the print used. The really incredible thing is how beautifully pure the white snow that carpets the film looks. Flesh tones look fine throughout. Paramount did some okay non-anamorphic discs(Snake Eyes, The Truman Show)- these were okay, but instantly forgettable offerings. Their anamorphic titles though, such as "Star Trek:Insurrection" and especially this disc, are both solid efforts. This disc though, is absolutely stunning for the majority of the running time.
SOUND: This is mainly a dialogue based film, but there are occasional instances of action towards the end of the film. The main things driving this sound mix are the Danny Elfman score, which sounds strong and rich and the dialogue, which sounds natural, but sometimes just the slightest bit soft. All in all, it definitely gets the job done.
MENUS: Film-themed menus, no animation. Just the basics for the menus on this disc, unfortunately.
EXTRAS: Just the cool trailer.