Best Laid Plans (1999)
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Reese Witherspoon (Lissa, nick's girlfriend and the 'raped' minor) pulls off one of her more impressing acting roles since 'Freeway' Although a bit more constraint than her role in Freeway, her presence definitely enriches the movie. Allessandro Nivola (Nick) will await a big future. His nonchalance acting and worried looks, will make him the perfect actor for sub-blockbusters. Finally one of his bigger roles after movies such as Inventing the Abbotts and Face/Off. Josh Brolin is less appealing, but even he is not bad enough to ruin this movie.
Mike Barker continues his strong line of work, after The James Gang in '97. And in a sort of way, this movie resembles his previous to some aspect. In both movies poor families take center stage, and in both movies they are resulting in criminal activities because of the financial trouble they are in. Barker is definitely one of the most artistic directors around (up there with Scorsese), but one wonders if he doesn't overdue it a bit sometimes. Even these minor negative things can't make me change my mind that this is a great movie, cinematic wise, with a well written script, that the characters are well thought out and acted, and that Barker has proven himself once more that he is a major talent. Bravo!
The film begins with a meeting in a bar between Nick (Nivola) and Bryce (Josh Brolin), old college chums who have not seen one another since graduation. Over a few rounds of drinks, they get reacquainted; Bryce is back in town to teach, while Nick has secured employment at the local recycling establishment. They do the good-to-see-you-again thing, and Nick leaves. But at about two o'clock in the morning, he gets a call from Bryce, who begs him to come over to his house (actually one he's watching for some friends who are out of town). Nick doesn't want to go, but Bryce sounds desperate and he can't refuse. What he finds when he gets there is something totally out of left field. Suffice to say, it involves a young woman named Lissa (Witherspoon), whom Bryce picked up in the bar just as Nick was leaving. It's not a pretty situation, and Bryce doesn't know what to do; so it falls to Nick to figure it out. And now, having crossed that proverbial line in the sand, Nick's involved, too. Or so it seems. But then again, maybe there's more to this than meets the eye. There's just something about this whole set-up that instinctively tells you that what appears to be, ain't necessarily so. The question is, what is it-- and who is doing what to whom exactly?
Barker has fashioned a fairly involving film from a story that initially seems somewhat convoluted, but which evolves, and later can actually be regarded as having a plot that is quite intricate and credible, making the comparison to Mamet entirely valid. The difference between this film and one of Mamet's, however, lies in the fact that Barker simply doesn't have that Mamet touch when it comes to presenting the material. He does a decent job, but lacks the finesse, the eye for detail and the grasp of what it takes to achieve that necessary sense of mystery that could have taken it to a much higher level. It lacks that sense of fear and menace, and the urgency it needed to be really effective. Barker does manage to give you enough to sustain interest, but his pace is wanting; there are moments when the pulse of his film simply flatlines.
Nivola is clearly the star of the show, and his performance is passable, but he lacks that extra something, that quality, that would have made his character anything special or memorable. Nick is believable, but too common; there's simply nothing distinctive enough about him to make you care much what happens to him one way or the other. On one hand, it's good acting-- the character is real-- but he's a guy who leaves you fairly nonplused; he needs a hangnail, as it were, a flaw that would have at least made him interesting.
Witherspoon gives a good performance, but this character is certainly not a stretch for her, by any means. Lissa, like Nick, is rather nondescript, and Witherspoon does little to spark much interest in her. In her defense, however, Barker really doesn't afford her the time nor the opportunity to do much exploring by way of characterization. But she is watchable, and fans of hers, especially, will no doubt find her work here satisfying.
As Bryce, Josh Brolin is disappointing, giving a one-note performance that is flat and forced. Granted, his character is supposed to be something of a nerd, but he puts nothing into it; a bit of nuance would have done wonders for his portrayal, and it's the kind of character that is ripe with opportunity, like a blank canvas just waiting to be shaded and textured. But Brolin dropped the ball, and Bryce ends up being completely forgettable.
The supporting cast includes Gene Wolande (Lawyer), Jonathan McMurtry (Vet), Rocky Carroll (Bad Dude), Jamie Marsh (Barry), Michael McCleery (Recycling Owner), Michael G. Hagerty (Charlie), Terrence Dashon Howard (Jimmy) and Sean Nepita (Freddie). A very average movie, but with enough twists and turns to keep it interesting, `Best Laid Plans' nevertheless comes off as inexplicably lackluster, given the storyline. This one had the potential of being a real edge-of-your-seater, but instead fails to stir the blood much at all. Performances aside, the story alone makes it worth a look; just don't expect too much. It takes some effort to get into it initially, and by the end you'll be reflecting on what a great movie this `almost' was. I rate this one 6/10.
Still, Nivola is always nice to watch :-)
Best Laid Plansd is a dark crime thriller about Nick (Alessandro Nivola) who needs to raise some cash urgently to pay off some mob debts. He enlist his girlfriend Lissa (Reese Witherspoon) to seduce an old college buddy, Bryce (Josh Brolin), out of his cash and to cry rape. However, things do not go to plan when Bryce takes Lissa hostage and asks Nick for advice on what to do.
Director Mike Barker has really gone for the Tarantino side of filmmaking, which he does impressively. Surprisingly, Best Laid Plans is actually better than some of the Quentin Tarantino projects, including Reservoir Dogs and Jackie Brown. It is more intriguing and clever than those two films due to an excellent screenplay and some really good performances; particularly from the rather unlikeable Alessandro Nivola and the stunning Reese Witherspoon.
Not faultless, but perfectly watchable and recommendable.
I rate Best Laid Plans 7 out of 10.
The writing and nicely convoluted story are clever, no one really gets killed, or even harmed. However lots of bad language. Glad I saw it, being a fan of Witherspoon, it is always interesting to see what she does with a role. Josh Brolin is also excellent.
The soundtrack is also pretty good.
Really good story that improves the more you watch it. At least you will think a little bit during and after the film as so many situations are raised.
Makes living in small town America look pretty desirable. Also makes you think about the people you grow up with.
Give it a shot!
The turn back to the past sucks away some of the cool neo-noir vibe. This could have worked as a stylish three person play. Brolin is overacting a little and Nivola is a bit too stoic. The acting is OK and it's set up for something cool. Then the story adds in a twist. The big problem is the motivations for the twist make no sense. If Nick had the money, he would never do the job. There isn't any reason to scam him. The guy is begging to be paid at the job. Barry must have heard about it since Nick apparently tells him everything. How much money could Nick have in the bank? Even Nick's plan is questionable. I'm not sure what Bryce would do after finding the note missing. That part of the plan seems very dubious and I would think the stolen note would eventually land back on Nick. There are too many questionable plans going on here.
On a whim, I found this movie, having never heard of it, took it out, and popped it into the DVD player. It started. Intriguing premise; two friends at a bar, one meets a girl, statutory rape... It's all there.
PLOT TWIST => FLASHBACK.
Alright... fine. Usually this kind of "start at the end" turns me off; after all, I know the ending already. And, having read the back of the box before placing the disc into the player, I've got a pretty good idea of how the first hour or so is gonna play out.
Boom. I was right. Surprise, surprise.
Then we come back to the flashback scene, this time in real time, and continue on to the end of the movie. Insert a few gratuitous sex scenes wherever you please; the love side story doesn't really contribute a whole lot to the film, and can more or less be ignored. It's nice that you love each other, but every other movie has a main couple too. Yup. Every single one.
But wait! "What would a bad movie be without the random incoherent plot twist at the end?" you may be asking yourselves. And this one comes in on spades. Suddenly people supposedly dead ... aren't! And other people who seem to be drug dealers who stole your car and your girl... are really pretty nice guys! And suddenly every conflict that the main characters have vanish - in the face of poverty, of course, because love always wins out over money - and they ride off into the sunset as the credits begin to roll.
No, I'm not kidding. The only saving grace of this film is the main theme, which is actually pretty awesome. Save yourself an hour and a half and just watch the DVD menu for a bit. You'll get the same experience I did.
This mostly forgotten thriller starring Reese Witherspoon (Lissa) and Alessandro Nivola (Nick) suffers from a mightily contrived plot and a "Huh?--What happened?" ending. Nick is a guy who works at the local recycling plant (that's a new workplace for celluloid protagonists) who is about to inherit some big bucks from his father who has just kicked the bucket.
Meanwhile some of his coworkers are scheming up a plot to...well, no spoilers here. Let's just say that the viewer does not find out about this plot until the end, and then it seems a little...well, lame.
Along comes Lissa looking mighty fine and they fall in love, although I must say the chemistry certainly didn't spark up the screen. Now comes complication number one: the old man blew almost all his money and what he didn't blow the IRS is grabbing. Because of this Nick gets tempted into driving a get-away car for a drug rip off... Things go awry and Nick ends up in deep doo-doo, and in desperation gets Lissa to help him rip off an old school chum...which... Well, what these people do in desperation is a little on the unbelievable side.
I'm sorry that's all vague, but at least it's enough information to let you know if you actually saw this movie or not. Now, if you like probability-challenged, convoluted plots with loose ends and a lot of unlikely twists and turns, you might find this movie interesting. And if you like Reese, and you should, you might also find a reason for sticking around until the end. I know I did. She does a good job and looks good doing it.
Bottom line: although the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry, it can also be said that the most meticulously contrived plots sometimes turn out about as convincing as pseudoscience. Incidentally the title is a paraphrase of the 18th century Scottish poet Robert Burns's line: "The best-laid schemes o' mice an' men/Gang aft a-gley."
Most scenes are decked out in unpleasant pastel colors and interiors are always lit with warm lights. It's nice to look at but has a student filmmaking feel to it that distracts me.
Something else that is quite unreal is the scene in which Nivola and Witherspoon discuss their forthcoming crime...on a roof in front of a neon sign on a sofa. Yeah...like people keep sofas on roofs in front of neon signs. This was obviously an attempt by the director to add a little sparkle to an otherwise BORING scene. Which is also the reason he throws in some cliched camera angles. It's a "film noir" you see...so diagonal shots on an ordinary scene are standard.
Composer Craig Armstrong was obviously hired at the last minute when the director heard the score for Romeo and Juliet to provide a superficial (that word again) soundtrack. It sounds like it belongs in a totally different movie. But perhaps this is a good thing. There isn't much theme but the music does evoke some weird feelings from us. Much like the feelings the characters have. It's cool and I wish more scores were this way.
The "twist" wasn't too obvious to me. Once it occurs it takes away all the tension and stress right away and will relieve you big time. It even manages to change the tone of the whole movie to light-hearted.
In case your wondering my girlfriend lists this as number 2 in her top 3 movies. Number 1 is Devils Advocate and 3 is Moonwalker...ugh!
The film relies on the universal desires for love, sex and money. Bryce just wants to get laid, Lissa pretty much just wants love but Nick wants both love and money. His plans to get that money get in the way of other dead-end criminals also wanting money. As the film's title suggests, no plans go quite as according to plan. The various twists in getting the plans foiled weren't particularly ingenious but they were well done. I never quite knew what was coming next, but I always wanted to find out. A crime drama thriller with some crimes but minimal violence, and although it seems a bit slow there is enough intrigue to keep the suspense level, or at least interest, up.
"Best Laid Plans" stars three great actors at the beginning of their careers, and each proved why they have become the respected-stars they are. I recommend it to fans of crime drama thrillers and to fans of Reese Witherspoon, Josh Brolin, or Alessandro Nivola.
The first time I saw this, I was fooled by some of the tricks and surprises, but having just watched it a second time, it seems obvious and hardly believable. I found myself thinking, "Would anyone really do THAT?"
"The Usual Suspects", for all its faults, can be watched three or four times, and you still feel a frisson of surprise as the story turns itself inside out and back again. I sometimes think that there really is no point to it, but at least it's entertaining enough so that few viewers care. "Best Laid Plans", on the other hand, suffers from a lack of credibility that ultimately ruins it for a second viewing.
However, the two leads are likable and the production values are strong, so it's worth a spin, at least.
Mike Barker's direction was very good. He was visually daring and unconventional with liberal use of tight shots and extreme close-ups that were mostly effective. He was a little too enamored with these techniques though, and used them to excess. Such shots are good to emphasize certain emotions or to add impact, but Barker has the viewer in the actors' faces more often than your average teenage lovers. After a while the whole film has the feeling of watching characters with giant heads. Yet, this is a minor criticism for what was mostly a very good directorial effort.
The weakest aspect of the film was the acting which was mediocre though not terrible. Alessandro Nivola gave a lifeless performance as the hapless Nick desperately scheming for a way out of his small town. He came across too wimpy and flaccid for the daring character who was planning this elaborate rip off.
Reese Witherspoon was mostly window dressing in this film. Though she did a reasonable job with her character, the part did not have much meat to it as she was relegated to the role of sycophantic girl friend, a victim of her own weakness and bad judgment.
Josh Brolin was the weak link. His interpretation of his character's emotion is mostly measured by how loud he yells at the camera. Since his character was in hot water through most of the film, he was mostly screaming his lines at the top of his lungs. His portrayal was like surgery performed with a chain saw.
The best performance of the film goes to Rocky Carroll as the intimidating drug dealer who threatens to kill Nick for swiping his money. Carroll stole every scene he was in with high energy performances.
Overall, I gave this film a 7/10. The acting was not compelling but it was not so dreadful that it detracted from a terrific story and a well crafted film by Barker.
The key to movies like this (a good example would be "Usual Suspects" and "Blue Velvet") is to be plausible and provide twists that really shock you: it passed on both counts. Plausible means that the story, environment, and acting all fit. Check, check, and check. I was definitely surprised by the plot twists and didn't call any of them.
Directing is key in film noir and Mike Barker did OK. I guess if I have any complaint is that there wasn't any strong stylistic force that I could detect. One of my favorite films in this genre was "Blue Velvet" - I think this film could have come close to this level if it had the same level of style that Lynch was able to spin into the experience of "Velvet".
I join those who predict Allessandro Nivola to become a major recognized talent. I really enjoyed his performance in "Mansfield Park" as well. Josh Brolin was a convincing College "Friend"/Asshole. I had to laugh at the end of the film - I knew people like him in college too. I don't understand the comments that indicate that Josh was weak here, I completely bought him in the character. Reese Witherspoon, well, she just can't be bad - at least I haven't seen it if she has been.
Opening with an interesting set-up, this film jumps back in time and immediately undoes itself with a plot that is interesting but not as good as it really should have been. The plot follows the fall of Nick as he needs more money to cover firstly the dreams he has and then the problems he gets into when he tries to get the money by crime. Essentially this film could have been a mix of Tarantino, Mamet and Usual Suspects twists but it falls short of any of those targets but still manages to produce a reasonably good drama with elements of each. The plot isn't as good once it jumps back four months although it still has enough movement to keep things going. The twists are not that great and the plot itself doesn't make as much logical sense as it would like to think that it does. Nor is it as clever as it would like to think the small town America was well painted but the work on the characters was not as good.
Nivola leads the cast well with a nice performance of subtlety even if the material isn't always there for him. Witherspoon walks the film rather easily with a simple role that only really gets interesting towards the end. Of the rest of the cast Brolin is OK, Howard makes a solid appearance and generally everyone else turns in solid performances. It was a film that I felt the characters could have been more important and better developed but they were still good enough for the cast to work with.
Overall this is a fairly typical thriller with a twist. It seems to want to be a bit like Tarantino with the dialogue edge of Mamet and the twists of things like Suspects but it doesn't really get close to any of them. Still, it produces an engaging thriller that, although not original, is distracting at least.
The film begins with Nick (Alessandro Nivola) and his college friend Bryce (Josh Brolin) in a bar. A young woman walks by, and you can see Bryce checking her out. Nick leaves, and while he's asleep, he gets a panicked call from Bryce. The woman has threatened to call the police and claim rape. Bryce has tied her up and duct taped her mouth because he's terrified and doesn't know what to do.
Eventually the film flashes back to an earlier time. When his father dies, Nick assumes his father will leave him a lot of money which will help him get out of the one-horse town in which he lives. Unfortunately, his father died and left him with nothing as he was $240,000 in debt to the IRS, plus other debts.
When he gets an opportunity to make some real cash by stealing money from a drug dealer, Nick agrees. Somehow the dealer finds out he's involved and has him picked up. He tells Nick if Nick pays him back, he'll forget about what happened. Nick is frantic to get the money since he no longer has his cut.
Pretty good noir with good acting. Someone here commented that Alessandro Nivola is dull. I liked him because he played the character as if he was capable of anything.
Not a stretch for Reese Witherspoon; the other people were fine.
I liked the film, I thought it was well done, and I like that certain things were revealed in the beginning. I loved the scene where the commercial for the recycling place came on television, and Nick is so desperate to get Bryce's back to it. Very funny.
In better hands, this could have been a blockbuster. But it's still good.
This movie is one of those where it starts off kind of cool but slowly gets more and more far fetched and loses my interest. I think it would have been a lot cooler if for example the entire movie took place at the mansion and featured only the 2 friends and reece and focused on them playing off each other without letting the audience in on who is trying to screw who. Well I digress that was not to be. Instead it was a classic case of characters setting up elaborate plans to get what they want and making stupid decisions and keep getting themselves in further trouble. The actual plot centers around the character Nick who involves himself in a one time drug scheme and becomes increasingly desperate for money when the plan goes awry. I won't give too much away here (as invariably someone will find this clever) but I will say that I found it really stupid that not ONCE did Nick ever consider going to the police, even when his life was threatened. I realize he might get in trouble for his one time role as a "driver" but it would still be better then being DEAD. I guess why call the police when you can *deep breath* hatch a scheme to steal antique civil war money signed by Abraham Lincoln at the house that your old college buddy is house-sitting by getting him drunk and tricking him into thinking that he raped some 16 year old girl (who is actually older then 16 and your girlfriend) and then "murdering" her so that she won't go to the police and get her uncle to try him for statuatory rape. Really when you think about it, it's almost too easy. There are a few twists, the first of which was easy to spot, the "big one" at the end actually had the effect of being a let down. You know the movie you are watching isn't that great when even though it successfully pulls off a twist you don't care. To me the ending seemed to be a rather convinient way of ending the movie. I guess movies aren't always supposed to be realistic, but for a film like this to work it must create situations that will at least allow me to suspend my disbelief, that was not sadly the case with this (possibly direct to video) Blockbuster Video staple.