If you get the feeling that A Simple Plan could’ve been directed by the Coen brothers, you aren’t far off. This marvelous film is connected to Fargo and the Coen brothers in general. The moral thriller is made by the Coen’s long-time friends and occasional collaborator Sam Raimi. Joel worked as an editor on The Evil Dead (1981), Raimi co-wrote The Hudsucker Proxy (1994). I think Danny Elfman (here) emulates Carter Burwell’s 1996 Fargo score. The Coens’ apparently gave Sam advice on shooting in the snow and even the title has a shared connection with the brothers’ 1984 debut Blood Simple.
Shot on location in Minnesota, blue collar Hank (Bill Paxton) and his simple-minded brother Jacob (Billy Bob Thornton), and Jacob’s buddy (Brent Briscoe) stumble upon a great deal of money. This was made in that time after Twister and Sling Blade (two big 1996 films) when Paxton was a big star and Thornton was getting a look at every good script. This is his second acting nomination in three years and Billy Bob is wonderful here as the unintelligent but nuanced brother with coke-bottle glasses… “stay out here and talk to me” uttered by Billy Bob will gut you at one moment in the film and break your heart.
The brothers find some money and moral implications and wickedness ensues. Bridget Fonda plays Paxton’s wife. The four of them all behave in duplicitous ways at some point. There is a literal fox in the henhouse (walking across the street with a chicken in its mouth) that sets this entire thing off. Crows as well are used often in the frames (screen shot above) as a nice touch and maybe a nod to Hitchcock’s film The Birds.
It is a 2-hour ride of the vice tightening on all four of them.
“you work for the American dream- you don’t steal it”
Raimi mostly stays out of the way to showcase the acting and this excellent screenplay by Scott B. Smith (he and Billy Bob are the Oscar nominees here). This would read very well on the page or perform well on stage. Raimi does use shallow focus on a few occasions in nice frames to direct our attention. Once he uses the focus on Thornton as he lies down talking to Paxton (screen shot above) and in another scene he shoots Paxton in shallow focus at the barbershop—a spot where heightened attention to his character is fitting
There is also a great shot of four men walking in separate lines in the snow heading towards the woods (and pending doom). That screen shot is above as well.
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