Title – Meet Joe Black (1998)
Director – Martin Brest (Scent of a Woman)
Cast – Brad Pitt, Anthony Hopkins, Claire Forlani, Jake Weber, Jeffrey Tambor, Marcia Gay Harden
Plot – Death takes the form of a young man who becomes known as Joe Black (Pitt), with Joe tasking elderly businessman William Parish (Hopkins) to show him more of the world, a world that introduces him to love in the form of Parish’s daughter Susan (Forlani).
“To make the journey and not fall deeply in love, well, you haven’t lived a life at all”
Review by Eddie on 03/06/2020
Not a commercial or critical hit upon initial release, Martin Brest’s long in the tooth and extremely high concept re-imagining of Death Takes a Holiday has over the years remained a well-liked audience drama, even if this unnecessarily epic event has its share of glaring letdowns and mismanagement’s.
Well known in the industry for delivering comedy classics Midnight Run and Beverly Hills Cop and the Oscar awarded Scent of a Woman (let’s just forget about Gigli shall we?), Brest has proven to be a capable director across a range of genres and its through his keen eye and commitment to remain resolute throughout the very odd happenings in Meet Joe Black that the film remains a watchable experience, even when things appear as though they’re set to be derailed at any given minute.
Talking about the film via the written word makes one wonder how on earth such a plot could come to life, with Black’s mix of family drama, businesses takeover potboiler (a real anchor to the film), love story and rumination on life and death ensuring that 3 hours of should’ve been edited film is taken up in all instances, with its capable cast showing a commitment to the cause that showcases its clear many believed in what they were working on.
Remaining a stoic presence throughout and delivering a typically assured performance as wealthy businessman coming to terms with his mortality William Parish, Anthony Hopkins is on fine form here, while the arguably never better Claire Forlani as his daughter Susan reminds us all that her career appears to have been an opportunity lost as she now flounders in direct to VOD fare, leaving the performance of its leading man Brad Pitt the major debating point of a film that many dismissed without ever really giving it a chance.
Playing both a charismatic guy in a coffee shop that meets an untimely (and meme worthy) end after running into Susan at a New York diner and Death himself in the form of the newly minted Joe Black, Pitt’s performance is quite possibly the most divisive of his mostly impressive career.
It’s hard to know sometimes whether what we are witnessing is one of the more awkward leading turns of the 90’s or one of the most unexpectedly brilliant, with Pitt tasked with the unenviable task of showcasing what it may be like should death take the form of a strikingly handsome 30 year old single male, as Joe discovers the joys of peanut butter, French kissing and the art of tie wearing.
It’s a tough gig and due to the films often too mawkish in nature script and delivery, leaves Pitt hanging in the wind without a crutch to fall back on and there are often too many odd moments of Joe traipsing about in Parrish’s life that leads to an extended 30 minute finale that reaches for the stars but misses by a wide amount.
Throughout Brest’s film however there are moments of real tender beauty, backed by a stunning Thomas Newman score and some great moments of movie making art and at its core, Black tells a well-intentioned story that will warm the hearts in various moments, a fact not many movies of this kind can attest to have done.
Final Say –
A story that should never work done in a way that mixes wonderment and bemusement, this overly long and sometimes poorly handled epic isn’t classic filmmaking but Meet Joe Black has enough moments of joy and heart in it to warrant another go or perhaps a first time viewing for those turned away by its initially cold public response.
3 delicious cookies out of 5