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Meet Joe Black (1998) Review

My review of Meet Joe Black starring Brad Pitt and Anthony Hopkins


Synopsis from IMDB

Death, who takes the form of a young man, asks a media mogul to act as a guide to teach him about life on Earth, and in the process, he falls in love with his guide's daughter.

Starring: Anthony Hopkins, Brad Pitt and Claire Forlani.

Directed by: Martin Brest


My Thoughts

"65 years...don't they go by in a blink?" Unfortunately Meet Joe Black does not mirror the same brief nature as the years Bill Parrish (Anthony Hopkins) reflects on at his retirement/birthday party

When I first looked at the runtime (a bloated 3 hours) in comparison to the seemingly bland-at-first-glance plot, I was worried this film would be a chore to slog through and much to my dismay....I was correct

Warning: spoilers ahead for this *checks watch* 23 year old movie

It opens with Bill Parrish, a wealthy business man, waking from a dead sleep as he hears a voice in his head repeating "yes" but keeps ignoring it despite it's persistence. The next morning, Bill is in a helicopter with his daughter Susan (Claire Forlani) asking if she loves the man she's with and wants to make sure she's passionately happy even if it's not with him, "hoping for lighting to strike" as he puts it. Bill is at work at Parrish Communications, the company he owns and is the Chairman of the Board at, when the voice in his head starts to escalate, he begins having severe chest pain seemingly caused by the same voice he heard earlier, they have a longer exchange this time and his chest pain leaves but Bill is still left with more questions than answers. This movie does a great job roping you into this mystery of who the voice is, what it wants and leaves you wanting more

Cut to Bill's daughter Susan in a diner eating breakfast when she overhears a stranger (Brad Pitt) talking to his kid sister and once he hangs up he comes to sit with Susan. They flirt and she begins to wonder if he's the "lightning" she's been wanting but hasn't experienced in her current boyfriend Drew, they exit the diner and unknowingly watch each other leave in opposite directions before Pitt is run over by two cars and is killed. This scene is wonderfully acted by both Brad Pitt and Claire Forlani, their chemistry is palpable and you really believe they fall for each other just in this one scene...only to be run over in the street and extinguished as quickly as Pitt's character. (More on that later)

Later that night at dinner Bill is told there's a man at the door and he tells the maid to show him to the library....enter the voice. The voice finally reveals itself as the entity Death that has taken the body of the man that Susan met earlier, he divulges that Bill is not long for the world and is here to "take him" but will give Bill extra time in exchange for Bill teaching him about life on Earth. Bill agrees and introduces him to the family as Joe Black.

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Now I won't give you the whole plot because....well there's not much else to give away so I'll just give you my general thoughts.

As I said the first hour is where this film really shines, mostly with Bill's stress and somberness in relation to his newly discovered mortality, hilariously juxtaposed with Joe's boyish naivety in regards to holding a conversation with another human being and being whimsically obsessed with peanut butter and cookies (a Grim Reaper's gotta eat right). Anthony Hopkins is really the only bright spot as far as acting goes as everyone else is just kinda....there.

However, there were two standout moments for me, turning out to be two emotional tentpoles of the film.

The first is during one of the dinner scenes where Bill has to decide on a cake for his birthday party, being planned by his eldest daughter. He doesn't seem interested in any of the goings on nor in the party, ultimately saying he doesn't like cake and asks her to just pick the one she wants, which greatly upsets her. Realizing his mistake and wanting to reconcile, he calms her down by choosing one and eating a bite. After everyone's mood improves Bill asks if they can have dinner every night from now on and they agree, having the context of knowing his time is short we can tell he's putting focus on what's truly important in life: family, something we all should practice

The second comes at the very end of the movie after Susan sees her father walk over the bridge when the man she met in the diner reappears, returned to her by Death in exchange for her father. Seeing her experience life in a matter of minutes, receiving and losing loved ones, really tugs at the heart strings.

Where this film really falls apart is the relationship between Joe and Susan post car crash, both fall really flat in their line deliveries (I know Joe is Death and doesn't know how to talk but still) which makes their "chemistry" in the last two hours unbelievable and uninteresting and is unfortunately the main story of the film. It was frustrating to see an actor of Pitt's caliber so subdued for 3 hours when you consider some of his other roles (i.e. The Assassination of Jesse James, Inglorious Bastards and Moneyball).

The rest of the movie just feels like a slow march toward the end of a plot that was spelled out in the first half hour and I was left disappointed after such promise with the two lead actors involved and yearning for my 3 hours back.

My rating: 4/10

If you're looking for a slow, Dickens-esque play then I would recommend this to you and you would probably enjoy it but if you want something with a more engaging story and a similar runtime I highly recommend Interstellar or The Aviator....or you could go on a nice hike...y'know, you do you.

© 2021 Spencer Libby

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