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the film criticism aspect of cyber | by maryann johanson

10 years of Flick Filosopher: my love affair with Bill Paxton begins

I’m still haunted by Sam Raimi’s brilliant 1999 flick A Simple Plan, and I’m still amazed at how simply astonishing Bill Paxton is here:

In a story about how the love of money can push a good man to evil, Hank is always the guy next door, and never in that frightening, quiet, serial-killer way. Paxton never lets Hank grow beyond his nice, sweet ordinariness into something we can no longer identify with (after all the bad he’s done, Hank can still look upon his newborn daughter with a gentleness that defies words). That’s always been Paxton’s forté and the secret of his uniqueness. There’s been no actor like him before in movies and no one quite like him now. Tom Hanks has been crowned by many filmdom’s “ordinary Joe,” the embodiment of the average guy up on the screen. But Hanks’s persona seems to me to be one almost supranormal, a paragon of normalness — a Hollywood version of all-American gee-whizness. Paxton’s characters are always the flip sides of Hanks’s — they’re so genuinely average that it’s easy to forget that they’re invented, that it’s not just some guy up there on the screen playing himself. (Not that I dislike Hanks, by any means — in fact, put these two Joes together, as in Apollo 13, and they’re unstoppable.)

review of A Simple Plan, posted 12.28.98

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  • I thought this was a terrific movie (though I’ve only seen it once, about four years ago), but one thing about it keeps nagging at me. Hank is the one who needs the most convincing to take the money. He’s the honest everyman who is tempted and slowly becomes more and more dominated by obsession. Except… he intentionally kills the man on the snowmobile within the first third of the film. It seems to me that, in a story about how a good man can succumb to evil, something as extreme as murder should come very late in the story. If he was capable of murder that early, I wonder how good of a man he was to begin with. The movie still works, so maybe I’m off-base on this one. Maybe it was more that he wanted to protect his brother, since the man had seen damning things about him (I can’t remember the details, but I remember the man saying “call the police”). Anyway, it was a fine movie, but that one aspect is a bone lodged in my throat.

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