Face-Off: One False Move vs. A Simple Plan

This past weekend, I was shocked and saddened to hear that the great Bill Paxton had passed away due to complications following heart surgery. Paxton has been a frequent presence in movies and on television throughout my entire life and he has always been a favorite of mine, I always loved when he would show up in something I was watching. The loss of Bill Paxton has made such an emotional impact on me, I couldn't let the week go by without paying tribute to him. For this Face-Off put together in Paxton's memory, I decided to go with two small town crime thrillers he did in the '90s, both of which co-star Billy Bob Thornton: ONE FALSE MOVE and A SIMPLE PLAN. Both films are already winners, since they star Bill Paxton, but let's see which one comes out on top in the most categories.
Ray Malcolm and Lenny "Pluto" Franklin are cold-blooded criminals who are out for cash and will kill anyone who could get in their way or threaten their freedom. They get Ray's girlfriend Lila "Fantasia" Walker involved in their plan to steal a drug dealer's stash and sell it off to someone else, a theft that involves two home invasions and a betrayal of friends. In the process of this robbery, they kill six people - and it would be seven if Lila didn't keep a child hidden away from Ray and Pluto. Those are far from the last people Ray and Pluto kill while trying to work out their big deal.
The bad things begin when small town guy Hank Mitchell, his troubled brother Jacob, and Jacob's buddy Lou give in to an understandable temptation. While out in the woods, they find a crashed plane containing a dead pilot and a duffel bag full of money. $4.4 million. They decide to keep the money, and their lives spiral out of control from there. Keeping that money is not as simple as you might think, the characters have to put a lot of effort into not getting caught. Lies, betrayals, and deaths follow, as murders are committed to keep the secret and friends kill each other in the heat of the moment.
Bill Paxton really doesn't get enough credit for how versatile he was, he played a good variety of characters in his career. Still, there's a certain kind of exuberance I will always associate with him, and that is very evident in his portrayal of police officer Dale "Hurricane" Dixon, especially in his early scenes. Dixon is very excited that L.A. cops are coming out to his small town of Star City, Arkansas (home town of Ray and Lila), and he dreams of going back to L.A. with them, forming a team, going big time. Events bring him down over the course of the film, but the good humor and energy he has when we first meet him is something only Paxton could deliver.
Bill Paxton's Hank Mitchell is a responsible, happy, friendly guy who is liked and respected in his community. He has a decent job, a wife, and a child on the way. After he makes the poor decision to keep the money, he lives in an almost constant state of panic and paranoia, as he has made this pact with a pair of morons and his wife keeps advising him to do questionable things in order to keep suspicion off of them. Hank commits murder, but thanks to Paxton's performance I find that I'm always on his side, I don't want to see bad things happen to him. He's a relatable character who has gotten in way over his head and I want to see him find a way out of it.
Billy Bob Thornton's Ray Malcolm may not be quite as bad as Michael Beach's knife happy psycho Pluto, but he's not much better. While Pluto is cold and calculating, Ray is the more outwardly threatening of the pair - loud, vulgar, willing to gun people down without a second thought. He'll kill a child to wipe out every possible witness. He'll pour lighter fluid on a woman and act like he's going to set her on fire. Ray Malcolm is a total, irredeemable scumbag, and Thornton plays such a character perfectly.
At first, Billy Bob Thornton's Jacob Mitchell just seems like a dim-witted goofball, but this guy has layers. The bumbling fool exterior masks some deep emotional pain; he's still bitter over the loss of the Mitchell family farm, he knows a devastating truth about their parents that Hank hasn't realized, and when everything falls apart he feels like he has become evil. Jacob could have been written off as a dope, but gradually we come to see him as a tragic figure and we start to care about him.
The palpable tension whenever Ray and Pluto are confronting somebody really gets to me, especially when combined with the fact that they are so slimy they practically make the screen ooze. It's off-putting, I don't like watching these two. Thankfully, they don't have as much screen time as Paxton's "Hurricane" Dixon does. Aside from the climax, there isn't a whole lot of tension in the scenes with Dixon, but instead intriguing drama.
Hank rarely gets any downtime before some other tense situation flares up, whether it involves having to deal with the plane crash, or with Lou not sticking to the agreement, or with his wife Sarah pushing him to do something that he never would have considered doing on his own. The audience doesn't get a break, either. Tension comes from the worry that more awful things might be coming down the line, and that Hank might get caught.
The screenplay by Billy Bob Thornton and Tom Epperson tells a Southern noir story, and director Carl Franklin brought it to the screen in a very down-to-earth, realistic way. Everything presented in the film feels true to life, whether it's a glimpse into country life, like an old farmer preoccupied with feeding his chickens, or the terrifying, messy acts of violence. The crime thriller aspect is actually the less interesting part of the movie, much more interesting is the story of Dixon - an ambitious cop whose dreams for the future are shattered before he has to face the consequences of past transgressions.
Adapting his own novel, screenwriter Scott Smith crafted an incredible neo-noir thriller that hooks the viewer with the discovery of the money - a discovery that makes us ponder how we would handle the situation - and then he keeps us invested by giving the characters depth. Those characters were brought to life by great actors, the story brought to the screen by Sam Raimi, a man who knows how to deliver thrills. Shooting in awesome snowbound locations, Raimi perfectly captured the feeling of a Midwestern town in winter, then showed us some terrible things can occur in that wonderland setting.
ONE FALSE MOVE puts up a good fight, but A SIMPLE PLAN is just too strong of a contender. While the former film has Paxton demonstrating the sort of screen presence I'll most strongly remember him for, I find A SIMPLE PLAN to be a more engrossing and satisfying film overall.

Would you pick A SIMPLE PLAN as well, or would you give the win to ONE FALSE MOVE? What is your favorite movie to star Bill Paxton, and which of his characters is your favorite? Share your thoughts on these films and Paxton's career in general by leaving a comment below. If you would like to send in a suggestion for a future Face-Off, you can contact me at [email protected].



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