A Simple Plan, 1998. Directed by Sam Raimi. Bill Paxton, Billy Bob Thornton, Bridget Fonda. .

The stark brightness of the the snow in this adaptation of Scott Smith's brutal crime novel bears in it an interesting metaphor. There are times when the background is totally white, but the deeds performed against this backdrop are very dark indeed. That stark contrast is a verrrrry interesting counterpoint to the moral dillemas faced by the characters here. They see their world in ever-shifting shades of gray, but their moral choices should be black and white. The tragedy that forms this movie's story can be summed up with this contrast.

The plot finds two brothers and their friend finding four million dollars in a downed plane that no one is looking for. Paxton's character is the bright one of this group, college educated with a family and a good job­his first impulse is to turn the money in to the authorities, but his brother and his friend convince him that they should keep it. They hatch a simple plan: hide the money for a while until the heat goes down, see if anyone is looking for it, then keep it after a suitable time. Once they make this first immoral choice, the nightmare begins.

This is about ten shades darker in its action than any other thriller in recent memory because it digs deeper than its "true crime" plot and examines the moral state of plain folks These are ordinary people played with uncommon subtlety by the actors, particularly Paxton. Unlike the grotesques in Fargo (which this film resembles in some particulars), these people are just like you and me. It comes as a shock when they begin to commit horrifying acts to cover their first moral indescretion.

Sam Raimi films this all with an uncharacteristic restraint, allowing the characters, the setting, and the situation to play out and signify without the intrusive reflexivity of his more notorious gonzo style. His technique is detatched, almost clinical, as if he is filming an autopsy, picking through the moral minefield on display with rare delicacy to lay bare the awful implications of what one immoral act can precipitate. With this moral climate laid bare, A Simple Plan transcends its generic roots and makes the cut as art of a chilling, unforgettable sort.

There is a quote from minimalist sculptor Constantin Brancusi that I like very much and seems to fit this movie to a "T": "Simplicity is complexity resolved."