MEET JOE BLACK (1998) 

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Brad Pitt
Anthony Hopkins
Claire Forlani
Jake Weber
Marcia Gay Harden
Jeffrey Tambor
David S. Howard

Martin Brest



Time: 180 mins.
Rating: PG-13
Genre: Drama/Romance/Fantasy

The power behind this film is fairly obvious: It makes you think about your own mortality and whether or not you consider your life well-lived. Heady stuff for an afternoon at the movies. The strange thing is, it isn't as depressing as one might think. MEET JOE BLACK is certainly no laugh riot, and though it's over a half an hour too long, you enjoy the time spent with these characters. At least I did. Anthony Hopkins plays William Parrish, a millionaire, media-mogul on the verge of his 65th birthday. Three days before the big party with a guest list to rival a dinner at the White House, he experiences some chest pains. He asks himself if he's dying and a voice replies "yes." It's Death. However, instead of just ushering Bill onto the next world, "he" appears in human form and proposes a bargain. He'll let Bill live for a few more days, if Bill will agree to be Death's tour guide while he vacations on Earth. Show him around the place, teach him what it's like to be alive, to experience passion and joy. Though horrified it's not exactly a bargain Bill can refuse.

Unfortunately, the body Death chooses to walk around in, belonged to a charming young man that wooed Bill's daughter Susan (Forlani) in a diner that morning. Pitt is so disarmingly honest, funny and down-to-earth, no woman on the planet could have resisted him. If I met this guy in a coffee shop, my type or not, he could pour coffee for me all day and I don't even drink the stuff. Their connection is strong and immediate. Like a lightning strike. Susan is involved with Drew, an associate of her father's, but she instinctively knows this is truly the man for her. Yet, she listens to her head instead of her heart and walks away. Lucky for her, Death has other plans.

When she arrives at her father's for dinner she meets the man of her dreams again. Only this time he's not at all what he seems. Introduced as Joe Black, Death must now try to fit in. Having never been human before, Joe walks a bit stiffly, talks a bit slowly and savors every bite of food, especially peanut butter. Pitt has some wonderfully funny scenes as Joe discovers some of the simple joys of life. Though this is a vacation, there's never any mistaking that once this trip is over, he will not be leaving alone. Hopkins gives another touching performance as a man trying to come to grips with his own demise. Though he's lived a full life, he, like all of us who have time to ponder, can't quite believe this is actually happening to him.

It goes without saying that Susan falls in love with Joe. She knows there's something different about him since their meeting in the coffee shop, but she just can't resist. Perhaps it's the startling blue eyes and perfect body. Nah. Joe, never having experienced love before, becomes almost human when he decides he's not going to let it go. He's so overwhelmed by emotion he decides he's going to take Susan with them. This decision leads to one of the film's most powerful scenes where Bill begs, argues and pleads with Joe to let Susan fulfill her own destiny. Though Pitt may look like an angel, there's no mistaking the menace behind his eyes.

"When I introduce you, and I tell them who you are, I don't think anyone will stay for dinner."

The film carries on a bit with a takeover bid of Bill's company that no one, including Bill, really cares about. There's also all this strum and drang about his birthday party, which is another useless subplot. The final party scene carries on so long, I felt like I was actually attending. However long and drawn out, MEET JOE BLACK is filled with subtle performances that will pull on your heartstrings. It's fairly schmaltzie stuff so that isn't hard – I cried through most of the movie – but I didn't feel entirely manipulated by it. I'm generally not a big Brad Pitt fan but I have to say I was impressed by his performance. He really pulled it off. I was also prepared to hate Clair Forlani, but she impressed me too. She played it smart, sexy and, most of all, honest. I believed her every step of the way. If you're looking for an intelligent, thought-provoking love story about the joys of life, you'll like this film. MEET JOE BLACK may be about death, but it'll help you appreciate your life.

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