he question of rather you will enjoy or hate Martin
Brest's Meet Joe Black is dependent on rather the movie's premise
intrigues and fascinates you. The premise is this: Death, wishing to taste life
for the first time, decides to take the form of a recently deceased young man
and uses a dying billionaire as his tour guide. If that sounds like something
you'll like, then you will most likely enjoy Meet Joe Black, warts and
all. If it doesn't, well, then you needn't bother with this film, since you
won't be able to look past some of its glaring faults.
Meet Joe Black stars Brad Pitt as Death himself and
Anthony Hopkins as Bill Parrish, a billionaire telecommunications tycoon who is
approaching his 65th birthday and the end of his life. Death, taking
the form of a young man, approaches Parrish with an intriguing offer: show Death
around the living world and Parrish will be spared death for as long as Death
himself is kept interested; when Death decides it's time to go, Parrish will
also go with him. Parrish, of course, readily agrees, since death is something
no one is ready for, especially the constantly-busy Parrish, who has made a
career out of working his tail off and ignoring his two grown daughters, Susan
(Claire Forlani) and Allison (Marcia Gay Harden).
A complication in both Death
and Parrish's plans arise when Susan meets Death, who is now going by the name
of Joe Black, and recognizes him (not Death, but the young man's body that Death
has taken over) as a man she was smitten with just this morning at a coffee
shop. It was love at first introduction for Susan and likewise for the young
man, at least until he met a most unfortunate end -- although Susan doesn't know
this. If the fact that his youngest daughter is falling for Death isn't bad
enough, Parrish' supposedly "Number One" man at his company is
plotting a hostile takeover and is threatening to destroy everything Parrish
worked so hard to build. What's a tycoon facing death, literally, to do?
If there is one big fault with Meet Joe Black it's
the film's running time, which is just under 3 hours minus the credits. The
movie is intriguing and I thoroughly enjoyed all of Death's adventures in the
land of the living, but the film simply goes on for way too long and a lot of
cutting could have been done to keep the pacing brisk and the film under 2
hours. Even so, I enjoyed Meet Joe Black more than I thought I would.
Having known that the movie was over 3 hours and having read and heard numerous
reports of its slow pacing, I went into the film without much enthusiasm except,
of course, for the premise.
Meet Joe Black is essentially a Fish Out of
Water movie, and I've expressed many times how much I enjoy the genre. Death is
unfamiliar with life, and is surprised and awkward around other people, and
finds himself addicted to peanut butter. In one funny scene, a character
mentions the certainty of a situation and adds, "Like Death and
Taxes," to which Death, as Joe Black, questions him further on the details
of the phrase. It's certainly one of the movie's more hilarious scenes.
As always, Anthony Hopkins is superb as Parrish. He plays
the billionaire tycoon with a good balance of vulnerability at the prospect of
his mortality rearing its head and strong will as he struggles mightily to keep
his company and fight the takeover. As Death/Joe Black, Brad Pitt holds his own
against Hopkins. The two men's private scenes are electric and downright
entertaining. Pitt proves to be incredibly well-equip to go one-on-one with the
Claire Forlani, as the apple in Parrish's
eye, does fine as Susan, although she does look awkward in more than one scene.
(Hasn't Forlani ever worn heels before? On more than one occasion I was afraid
she might tip over while walking in them.) Forlani has soulful eyes and it helps
to add emotion to her scenes with Pitt's Joe Black. Marcia Gay Harden has very
little to do as Parrish's older and hopelessly devoted daughter. Even so, she
owns every scene she is in but one wishes the writers and director Brest had
given her much more to do. As Drew, the would-be jackal, Jake Weber must have
mistaken his role for a low-life gangster, because he comes across as an Al
Capone wannabe instead of a corporate raider. Weber is extremely embarrassing,
not to mention grating, as the irritating Drew.
Meet Joe Black is a slow movie, as everyone has
mentioned. The film could have been dramatically improved with a lot of
cutting and nothing important would have been lost. As it stands, Meet Joe
Black reeks of a director's self-indulgence and inability to "cut his
baby," as the saying goes. Sometimes less is more, Marty boy.