I'm no genius about most stuff, but I'm smart enough to know who is. Some people act smart in that TV weatherman way, like they know a lot of stupid shit and big words and they hit you over the head with them. Some people are truly smart but don't need big words to prove it. "A Simple Plan" was made by the truly smart people. They tell a complex story without any extras, and they do a bang-up job of it.
"A Simple Plan" starts out straightforward enough. In the deep snow of a rural Minnesota winter, the Mitchell Brothers and a drunk friend stumble upon a crashed plane. Inside, they find a popsicle corpse and a duffel bag stuffed with 4.4 million in cash. One Mitchell brother (Bill Paxton) is a hard-working but struggling accountant with a baby on the way. The other (Billy Bob Thornton) is about as slow as diarrhea in January. Along with their white-trash friend (Brent Briscoe) they do what all rational Americans would do, they keep the money.
Paxton, being the fancy-pants college boy of the bunch, thinks the other two are shitheads prone to fucking up their discovery. He holds the dough and orchestrates the actions of the three, to keep them out of suspicion. Paxton's scheming wife, played by Bridget Fonda, helps by slowly convincing him that Thornton and Briscoe are dangerous and greedy. She wants to protect their newfound wealth from their stupidity at all costs.
In their efforts to hide their theft, they commit more crimes. This begats more crimes (I got that "begat" word from the dirty part of the Bible), and the fucking crooks dig deeper into their pit of deceit. On top of this, the three men start feuding. The money creates paranoia and distrust, with each watching his back and becoming more and more defensive. When an FBI agent comes looking for the plane and the cash, all the distrust and greed blow up, and few people are left alive.
The plot of "A Simple Plan" is a hell of a lot like that of "Treasure of the Sierra Madre," which you can catch on cable on the Old Black and White Movie Channel. Three seemingly honest and decent fellows lose their decency and suspect that everyone else has as well when some cash is dangled before them. Even though we've seen the story before, "A Simple Plan" works because it's so God damn true that it's worth repeating. Hell, there's about five people a week willing to steal the toilet paper from my gas station's men's room (four for the ladies), so I can only imagine what would happen if there were 4.4 million dollars in cash in there. People are a bunch of greedy fucking assholes.
It's predictable that the problems of the crooks just keep getting worse. If they didn't the movie would only be fifteen minutes long. What is so great is that the downward spiral makes sense. When the brothers kill someone, it isn't some awkward device placed there only so the next scene can be a big car chase. They do it because they have to in order to keep their money. What's even better is that, although you know things will get worse, you don't know how and you can't guess.
The climax is just about the best I've seen this year. Most crap coming out of the asshole of Hollywood becomes a bullshit parade of explosions, gunfights, and getaways, all of which have about as much to do with the preceding movie as Claudia Schiffer has to do with me since the restraining order. In "A Simple Plan," we know they won't get to keep the money, but it's bitchin' finding out why not. And the bloodshed at the ending broke my Goddamn heart. Your old pal Filthy almost bawled in front of a matinee crowd.
Thornton puts on one of the best shows I've seen in a long time. He doesn't ham it up like most actors do when they get to play the sweet retard. He makes him ugly, flawed and, ultimately the most reasonable of the crooks because he isn't smart enough to be blinded by money. Thornton also builds the character out of little, consistent gestures and reactions that I could really see a dumb person making. He never has to shout "Look at me, I'm retarded!" to get our attention like that kid at my bus stop does. The rest of the cast is fine, but pale in comparison. They don't occupy their less-interesting characters the way Thornton does. They play a little stiffly, either because they're in the ass-freezing snow or because they don't get as much to work with as Thornton.
I'm giving "A Simple Plan" four fingers.
It's not a masterpiece like "Babe," but everyone should
go see it, just to let the assholes in Hollywood know we like
smart shit and we'll pay money to see it. Also, write to them
and tell them to put more naked women in the movies.