"If you found four million dollars, would you keep it or turn it in?" a character asks his wife in "A Simple Plan," which documents the events of two men who choose to do what everyone always says they wouldn't do but probably really would if they were given the chance. What chance? A chance to take four million bucks, without anyone knowing who took it, or even that it was taken at all. It's just a simple plan for a simple event. But simple plans can be disastrous, as "A Simple Plan" tells us, in which two brothers named Hank (Bill Paxton) and Jacob (Billy Bob Thornton) discover a duffel bag full of $4,400,000 in a crashed plane sitting out in the middle of an abandoned nature preserve. Do they turn it in? Keep it? In a moment of weakness, they choose to do the latter. Hank's wife, Sarah (Bridget Fonda), is supportive of their decision. She even tells Hank to return some of the money to the plane, to cover their tracks. When Hank does this, it results in the death of a nosy neighbor on a snowmobile. Soon this tragic chain of events slides into even more murder and cover ups as one of Jacob's close friends and his wife die, in short, because of Hank and his brother. The town Chief of Police, Carl, suspects that something fishy is going on. And when an FBI agent comes to town searching for the plane, Hank has to face the facts that the man may not be from the FBI, but instead might be one of two brothers whose ransom money was lost in the plane crash. The film reminds me of the Coen Brothers' amazing "Fargo" in many different ways. Most noticeable is the landscape, as well as the quirkiness of the film that lends a realistic tone to it. Also is the spiraling downfall of the characters -- the events trigger one tragic circumstance after another, eventually turning into murder and double-crossing and greed. Billy Bob Thornton turns in another great performance here as Jacob, the lonely guy who has never kissed a girl but fondly remembers the day that he held hands with a high school babe. His plan is to buy back the family farm that his father once maintained. But underneath Jacob's exterior is a heart with little armor. "I feel evil," he says to Hank after lying to the police about the death of his friend. Hank, played by Bill Paxton, is the prime example of how greed can corrupt a man. When they find the money, it is Hank's firm belief to turn in the cash and report the plane to the police. He is convinced to keep the cash, since it's probably dirty drug money. Soon he is the man who is interested in the money more than anyone else. And by the very end of the film, we realize that sometimes people do the worst things for something they can never even have. Paxton is one of our greatest actors, his credits ranging back to the days of "The Terminator" (1984) and "Aliens" (1986). He's in most of James Cameron's films, including those two mentioned before and "Titanic" and "Ghosts of the Abyss." He's not exactly one of mainstream Hollywood's brightest stars, but here he proves that he can turn in a better performance than some of the highest paid actors (*cough*, Tom Cruise, *cough*) in cinema history. The last fifteen minutes of "A Simple Plan" are tense, exciting and unnerving. This is the type of movie where the hero knows the bad guy is next to him, leading him towards his own death, but can't say anything because then everyone will know that he committed a crime himself. He has to pretend that he doesn't know the bad guy is a bad guy. He has to pretend that everything is all right, even when he's being led into a trap. And when the so-called FBI agent, Hank, Carl and Jacob split up in the woods to search for the plane, I primed myself for what was to come. Is this the type of movie where the hero dies or lives? I won't ruin the surprise. But I think the ending is entirely more meaningful than it could have been if Sam Raimi, the director, had chosen a different route. This is one of the best films of the past decade, and certainly one of the most important. 4.5/5 stars. - John Ulmer
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