Best Laid Plans (1999)

Best Laid Plans opens with banter between two characters. The first is Bryce (Josh Brolin), who’s telling a joke to Nick (Alessandro Nivola). They’re at a bar, catching up after a long time apart. In walks a woman, Lissa (Reese Witherspoon). We fade to black, and a montage informs us that Lissa and Bryce ended up having sex. The next thing we see is Nick picking up the phone, with Bryce on the other end asking if Nick can come over. It’s an emergency.

There isn’t much urgency to Bryce once Nick shows up, which seemed weird to me. Drinks are even offered. Anyway, it becomes clear that Bryce isn’t okay, as he’s in a panic and he’s shaking. The news is spilled: Lissa is accusing him of raping her. Through digging through her purse, it’s discovered that she’s a minor, despite carrying one ID that says she’s 21, meaning that Bryce, a college professor, could be charged with statutory rape. He says that will mean at least ten years in prison.

There’s not much he can do, Nick tells him. That’s where Bryce’s friend is wrong; there is something that the pair can do. See, instead of letting Lissa go to the police, Bryce put her in handcuffs and threw her in the basement. She’s down there now, and when we go see her, Nick shows compassion. He wants to play the good cop, after all. After some deliberation, it’s determined that Nick will threaten her in hopes that she’ll decide not to tell on Bryce for breaking the law, and in exchange, she’ll be released.

I don’t want to spoil any more of the plot than that, but I will say one thing: After this decision, and after a key reveal, we flash backward to four months prior to this night. We learn about what led up to this point: Why certain characters act the way they do; how Bryce, someone without a lot of money, is living in this dream house; why Nick’s life might be on the line, in spite of his calm demeanor; the reason behind Lissa’s lawsuit threat, and so on.

It all hinges on a plot twist, which I will not reveal. About 50 minutes of Best Laid Plans is dedicated to this flashback, only allowing 40, or maybe even less, for the current story. This is a lot of build-up, and it’s a bit too much for my liking. For instance, after we see footage of the previous three months, we don’t need to see the meeting in the bar on this day, especially as we’ve already seen part of it. There isn’t anything revealing here that we haven’t already picked up on.

This doesn’t make the film feel too long, but it does make it smell of padding, which is always a bad thing. There are a few moments throughout when there should have been tighter editing. It’s a 92 minute film, although it would have been better at 90. Yes, I do believe that those two minutes make a big enough difference to note. A film like this requires your constant attention to be successful, and when you’re wondering why it’s showing you something, you won’t be thinking about the plot.

Best Laid Plans is a thriller that keeps you engaged both during the set-up and after. You enjoy the flashback, which involves a drug deal gone bad, and you also enjoy the aftermath, which involves murder, the same drug dealers, a timer, and Abraham Lincoln. It’s very satisfying for the most part, and you’ll likely stay engaged for the majority of the film’s running time.

Eventually, it tried too hard, I think. There always has to be one more twist, which leads to the film having too many. It tries for a lot of sleight of hand, a lot of character turns and revelations — the final one was too silly to be believed. Sure, it makes sense in some respects, but it takes away from the film and makes a rewatch difficult. It’s also done for no reason, included seemingly because the filmmakers weren’t sure how to end their film.

What’s shocking about this movie is how much it gets you to care about characters that are … less than endearing, to put it nicely. Apart from Bryce, both Nick and Lissa garner sympathy throughout. Bryce is just unlikable, and with the basic premise that I’ve shared, you can believe that he would have raped Lissa. She’s no shining star herself (passing herself off as a minor), and after other character reveals, you learn how nefarious she and Nick actually are, but because their reasons for acting this way are pure, we don’t mind their deeds. These characters are three dimensional, well-acted, enjoyable to spend time with.

Best Laid Plans is a very good movie that’s thrilling throughout, save for approximately two minutes when it begins to drag. That’s nitpicking, to be sure, but it’s those two minutes away from being a great film. As it is, it’s very engaging, contains characters that you will care about even in spit of their flaws, and while the plot might try to be a little bit too clever at times, the choices made don’t hinder our enjoyment. This is an enjoyable thriller that you’ll likely have a good time with. I know I did.

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