Billy Bob Thornton received his second acting Oscar nomination for portraying Jacob Mitchell in A Simple Plan.
Thornton's Jacob is one of three men, the one of the three who is always in the middle of the group. He is the brother of the educated Hank (Bill Paxton) who wants to to plan out the use of the money carefully, and his best friend of the rather crude Lou Chambers (Brent Briscoe), who want to use the money for instant gratification. Thornton's Jacob is always being the one pulled by the other two to be pushed into their way of thinking, as well as is being continually used by the both of them as well. Jacob stands as the man in the middle largely as he really is a very simple and not particularly intelligent man.
This is the second nomination for Thornton for portraying a simple man, but unlike his performance Sling Blade Thorton does not have a constrained set of mannerisms to try to make a unique character as he did in that film. In fact with his far more natural performance here, I find he makes Jacob into a far more memorable character than that of Karl Childers. Thorton is terrific in the role as this simple man, because he does not have an excuses or mannerisms. Jacob is a unique character for a film, as portrayed by Thornton, because he is a very unintelligent man, but it is not due to a mental defect, nor does Thornton play him for laughs.
Thornton instead gives an honest portrait of this man in what might be the most remarkable aspect of this great film. Thornton always plays the part of Jacob as genuinely as possible. In the role of the goodhearted but not very bright brother. Thornton is actually very likable here especially sense he could have just seemed obnoxious. Thornton avoids this by showing how much Jacob actually wants to try to do the right thing, and be on good terms with both his friend and his brother. His performance has the right sort of enthusiasm behind this man that really shows that Jacob only wants what is best for everyone, even though his good intentions rarely work.
Thornton is excellent in the way he creates Jacob's unique dynamic in the group of three men, as he is always being pulled by both of them. He is excellent in how he portrays his relationship with both of the men. With Lou Thornton shows a camaraderie Jacob has with him mainly because they simply share the same sort of hobbies as each other, and are at the same time of social, and intellectual standing. His relationship with Paxton's Hank is far more complex though, but Thornton's flawlessly brings to life their troubled relationship as brothers. Thornton is terrific here because he never simplifies the relationship between the two, which becomes a central part of the film.
Thornton realistically shows just how confused Jacob is over their relationship. He shows that Jacob just never quite knows what to really feel about his brother. Thornton is quite good in both types of moments with Paxton. Thorton effectively conveys the jealously and disconnect with his brother well. He shows that Jacob always does know that they have very very little alike, and it is always a troubling pain in him that he and his brother have such a difference between them. Thornton though shows this is something that only really comes out at his worst times, and it is not really a deep seeded hatred but something that will manifest itself when Hank takes his brother a little too much for granted.
Thornton though exceeds just as well in his moments of showing his love he does have for his brother in all reality. He does not overplay it in any way, but just shows quietly how he does really care for his brother, and that he does mean a whole lot to him. Thornton manages to always convince us that Jacob would always come through for his brother when he truly needs him to. It is a terrific portrayal of this man who never can fully understand his own feelings for his brother. It is a very complex relationship he has with his brother, but he always makes their relationship believable in each and every facet of it.
The best part of his performance though is the way Thornton makes Jacob the moral center of the film, even if he commits the first violent act of the film. Thornton though shows that even that act came from just the inability of Jacob to really think clearly when under pressure. Thornton makes us easily sympathize with Jacob's plight, and his reason for wanting the money. It is an absolutely heartbreaking portrait of this sad man Thornton creates. He shows that all Jacob wants is some of the smallest pleasure in life to himself, and all he wants is to rid himself out of the sad state in his life. His story of his one time "girlfriend" Thornton particularly makes a sad moment, because Thornton doesn't show Jacob as bitter over the experience, but instead believably shows him happy over the fact that he received any attention at all.
Thornton never fails for a moment to show how the weight of moral decisions made in the film. Thornton brings to life the way the immoral decisions begin to pain him. Thornton shows these stages effectively though as he tries at first to avoid even thinking about what they have done, and tries to hide it best he can within himself. Thornton subtly shows how he begins to be unable to avoid his feelings of wretchedness. Thorton realistically shows that he can barely believe they have gone the road they have, and Thornton brings us effectively bring Jacob to his final scene. His last moment is absolutely gut wrenching as he reveals just how Jacob just cannot accept what he and his brother have done. Thornton fully brings to life the horrendous pain that overwhelms Jacob to his very core that makes a tremendous impact on the film, and exceedingly heartbreaking due to how well Thornton realized Jacob up until this point.