Reviewed by: Mia Burruss
Meeting Joe Black could be hazardous to your health. In the movie “Meet Joe Black” (Universal) Brad Pitt plays Death a little too well—without emotional range or depth of soul. Inhabiting the body of one of his recent clients, Death decides to see if the grass is greener on the other side. So, he borrows the body of a young man who met with an untimely demise by getting hit by a cab.
“Meet Joe Black”, a remake of Michael Leisen’s “Death Takes a Holiday” (1934), attempts to address powerful concepts of dying, afterlife, love and power. Although they took three hours and spent $90 million to do it, writers Ron Olson and Jeff Reno and director Martin Brest still missed it. Failing to enlighten spiritually and succeeding as only moderately entertaining, this film may actually “bore audiences to death.”
Death comes in the night to take communications tycoon Bill Parrish (Anthony Hopkins) but becomes intrigued at Parrish’s life and postpones his business so he can observe the life of this “great man.” Parrish and Death have several encounters prior to Death revealing himself in Brad Pitt’s body. Each time, Death taunts and teases Parrish with thoughts that he is dying. The thoughts are heard in Parrish’s own voice although they are introduced by Death. Death seemed to be coaxing Parrish into agreement that he would die. Parrish is forced to play host to Death and conceal Death’s real identity or else Death will end Parrish’s life immediately. As Parrish re-joins a family dinner in progress with his new houseguest, he comes up with the name Joe Black.
The romance in “Meet Joe Black”, which toys with comedic and dramatic moments (there were not enough outstanding scenes of either to classify it), revolves around Parrish’s youngest daughter, Susan (Claire Forlani). The foundation for the relationship is some bad advice that Susan received from her father about how to define love and the fact that both she and Brad Pitt are undeniably gorgeous and extremely attracted to one another.
According to Bill Parrish, love is limited to the soul realm. “Love is passion, obsession… something you can’t live without. Forget your head and follow your heart.” Susan takes her father’s advice and follows her heart into bed and “in love” with the mysterious houseguest, Joe Black. As a resident internist at the hospital, Susan’s character should arguably be an intelligent woman. However, she is not following her head when she falls for Joe Black without knowing a thing about him.
Pitt is one-dimensional as Death. Glimmers of strength and power can be seen only when Joe Black threatens Parrish. Even in those scenes Pitt fails to deliver a convincing performance as a powerful spiritual force. For the majority of the film, Joe Black ambles through with robotic-like movements.
Forlani shows some promise as Susan, but is limited by her character’s infatuation with Joe Black. She simply smiles and acts coy, apologizing every time she expresses her true feelings.
Anthony Hopkins as Bill Parrish displays his talents as the heavyweight of acting. In a pitch-black theatre, Hopkins' strength could shine forth a bright performance. Unfortunately, one good performance by one actor is not enough to make “Meet Joe Black” redeemable.
In this movie, Death is a force or spirit operating seemingly independent of God or the devil. The only time God is mentioned is in a profane context. Parrish never thinks about praying to God or repenting for past sins. His idea of preparation for death is simply telling his daughters he loves them and not allowing his company to be bought out so he can leave a legacy behind.
The idea that if you are a good person you will be rewarded in your afterlife is given a platform in Bill Parrish. He is by no means a religious or spiritual man. He appears to love his daughters and try to be fair in his company. Although the film is vague on what happens after Death takes you, it does give the impression that “good people” can expect a “good” afterlife. Dying is accurately portrayed as the end of this life and the beginning of something else. It’s the something else that is never explained.
“Meet Joe Black” is dark on plot and script development but bright on production quality. Production designer Dante Ferretti and cinematographer Emannuel Lubezki created a look as rich as Bill Parrish’s character.
The director and sound editor made some poor choices in post-production. Severely limiting background music throughout many of the dialogue-only scenes made the audience suffer through bad performances and poorly written dialogue without the comfort of music to distract them. Rather than cutting away excess to show a powerful scene raw, the lack of music slowed the pace of the movie.
“Meet Joe Black” contains some nudity in one sex scene, profanity and uses God’s name in vain. The accident scene is disturbing because it shows Pitt’s character getting hit by one cab, getting catapulted in the air, then on its descent, getting hit again by another car. It is not suitable for children as the PG-13 rating implies.
Year of Release—1998