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(1998) (Brad Pitt, Anthony Hopkins) (PG-13)

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Drama: Personified as a charming, but enigmatic young man, Death grants a media tycoon some extra time on Earth in exchange for getting to experience life as a human.
William Parrish (ANTHONY HOPKINS) is a wealthy media tycoon who wishes only the best for his two daughters. He's worried that Susan (CLAIRE FORLANI), a medical intern, has no passion in her life, and must deal with Allison (MARCIA GAY HARDEN), who's busily preparing an elaborate party for his sixty-fifth birthday.

Things couldn't be much better for William, but after a bout with severe chest pain during the middle of the night, he starts hearing odd voices that continue into the next day. That following night, while having dinner with Susan, her boyfriend Drew (JAKE WEBER), who just so happens to be William's right-hand man, and Allison and her husband Quince (JEFFREY TAMBOR), who's also on the board of directors for Parrish Communications, William hears a voice stating that "he's" waiting at his front door.

Upon meeting this person, William learns that he's Death, who's taken the body of a young man (BRAD PITT) that Susan earlier and briefly met in a coffee shop. Striking a deal with William, Death offers to give him some extra time on Earth in return for the doomed man showing him what it's like to be human.

Stunned by this revelation, William agrees and introduces Death to his family as an acquaintance, Joe Black. Everyone's curious about the sudden appearance of this seemingly odd man, but none more so than Susan who recognizes him as the man from the coffee shop, but can't understand why he's now so different.

Others, including Drew, are as equally perplexed about why William is now bringing this stranger to their board meetings and seemingly consulting with him for advice. When William suddenly changes his mind regarding a planned business merger, Drew becomes concerned, but also suspicious of Joe.

Facing his certain demise, William sets out to wrap up his loose ends, but begins to fret when he sees that Joe, who's experiencing life's sensations for the first time, starts to fall for Susan and vice-versa. Worried that Joe may have other plans for her, William must deal with that while also contending with Drew's plans to undermine him and his company and, of course, his own pending trip to the great hereafter.

If they're fans of someone in the cast they might, but the three hour length may cause many to think otherwise.
For an accident scene, some sexuality and brief strong language.
  • BRAD PITT plays Death who takes a man's body so that he can "take a holiday" and experience life as a human. Along the way he has sex with Susan.
  • ANTHONY HOPKINS plays a wealthy tycoon who learns he only has a short time to live and thus sets out to make things straight in his life. He drinks a few times and cusses some as well, but is otherwise a dignified and principled man.
  • CLAIRE FORLANI plays his medical intern daughter who falls for Joe and ends up having sex with him.
  • JAKE WEBER plays William's right-hand man who, concerned about his boss' change of heart, sets out to rectify things to favor himself.


    OUR TAKE: 8 out of 10
    While Death, when personified as a being, has been referred to by many titles -- the Grim Reaper, the Great Leveler, the Angel of Death, and Lord of the Underworld among others -- it's doubtful "he's" been called the sexiest man alive. Yet, here we have Mr. Brad Pitt -- former recipient of that label and looking ever more like a young Robert Redford -- playing that character in a film that's quite good, but unfortunately also about an hour too long.

    While they say that death and taxes are two guaranteed certainties in life (a common saying effectively played with in this film), I can think of a few more. First, although few people would welcome the arrival of the Grim Reaper, I'd hazard a guess that half the moviegoers out there (the fairer gender) wouldn't mind it so much if he looked and acted like Mr. Pitt.

    Secondly, no matter how true or accurate that first statement may be, the film's three hour length and reported $90 million budget means it will never go into the financial state usually associated with the title character's last name.

    Nonetheless, and despite its dire need for a more cynical and hard-nosed editor, "Meet Joe Black" is a marvelous, "feel good" romantic drama featuring great performances from its leads, a witty script, and -- depending on your stance regarding the film's pace -- just the right directorial touch.

    I must admit that I'm a sucker for any of the sentimental, fantasized "life after death" type plots, and have immensely enjoyed films such as "Heaven Can Wait" (the Warren Beatty version), "Field of Dreams," and of course the "Christmas Carol/It's A Wonderful Life" style movies (although the recent "What Dreams May Come" didn't cut it).

    This one, a loosely updated adaption of the classic 1934 film, "Death Takes a Holiday," joins that illustrious group. Purposefully unfolding in a casual manner that nearly hypnotizes the viewer into its dreamlike aura, the film is definitely too long, but never feels overly laborious despite the many pregnant pauses, slowly delivered dialogue, and resolute lack of any need to hurry through its story.

    Part of that's due to the charismatic cast and the wonderful performances they deliver. Oscar winner Anthony Hopkins ("The Silence of the Lambs," "The Edge") has always been one of my favorite actors and he seems to have a knack for picking roles that suit him well. Always believable as the suave tycoon, Hopkins perfectly fits into his role, although his character doesn't always react the way he probably should, a point we'll touch on in a moment.

    While some may question the casting of Oscar nominee Brad Pitt ("Twelve Monkeys," "Seven Years in Tibet") as the Grim Reaper along with his subsequent take on how that being would react once in a human body, I found his performance to be a finely tuned balance of "fish out of water" innocense coupled with potentially eruptive doom. Eliciting many laughs from his surprised but subdued reactions to new experiences and sensations, his performance will likely garner notice comparing it with Jeff Bridges role in "Starman."

    Claire Forlani ("Basquiat," "The Rock"), while inhabiting a decidedly less developed character than her male counterparts, is still quite stunning, gorgeous and a perfect counter to Brad Pitt for the men in the audience.

    Although a more substantial fleshing out of her character would have better suited Forlani, she easily holds her own in the midst of her highly acclaimed leading men and this role should thrust her into the media spotlight as well. Supporting performances from the likes of Marcia Gay Harden, Jeffrey Tambor, and Jake Weber are solid across the board.

    Director Martin Brest, who often takes years between his projects (his last being 1992's "Scent of a Woman" after "Midnight Run" and "Beverly Hills Cop"), allows his performers and their characters all the time in the world to do their thing.

    Working from a script by Ron Osborn & Jeff Reno (collaborators on "Radioland Murders" and "The Hard Way") and Kevin Wade ("Working Girl," "Junior") and two-time Oscar winner Bo Goldman ("One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," "Melvin and Howard"), Brest is never in any hurry to move the story along. As such the film's languid pace will certainly divide critics and viewers over whether such a unhurried plot is a good or bad thing.

    Much like the recent and similarly long "Beloved," this film easily could have been trimmed by an hour or so without losing an ounce of material. While Brest appears to have purposefully paced the film to elicit that near hypnotic effect and such shortening could have hampered that, the film clearly would have benefitted from another trip or two to the editing booth.

    Other complaints are more superficial and a byproduct of my personal desire for good films like this to be even better. Beyond the film's length, character motivation occasionally appears misguided or missing. While Hopkins plays his tycoon character's reaction as something along the lines of dazed acceptance, I kept waiting for him to take a proactive role regarding his pending fate.

    As such, one would imagine that his wealthy and fabulously successful tycoon character would surely have something up his sleeve to try to "fix" things. After all, and considering that he must have a lifetime of dealing with formidable business opponents, Parrish would certainly present Death a counteroffer or business proposition to overcome this latest setback.

    While Brest and Hopkins obviously chose to allow his character to go gently into the night in a dignified fashion that few other than Hopkins could muster, most will probably wish he had at least put up a little fight before doing so.

    Additionally, and while granted he can't tell anyone about their deal or Death will immediately whisk him away, Parrish, like the film in general, never seems in a great hurry to put his life in order, wrap up loose ends, or make sure his daughters will be okay after he's gone. While some of that eventually materializes in its own good time, such near leisurely reaction may irritate some, but again that's the approach the filmmakers have decided to take.

    Parrish also too easily buys into the fact that Joe is Death -- again accounting that he's a savvy and experienced businessman who would need greater proof -- and he doesn't realistically go through the stages associated with learning such news -- denial, anger, etc... -- and hits acceptance perhaps a bit too quickly and easily.

    Again, they're going for dignity here, and that, coupled with the film's fantasy-like approach, somewhat makes those problems easier to swallow. Even so, the writers could have honed the script a bit more to remedy such faults.

    They definitely left out one of the more "fun" elements of Death taking a holiday, and that, of course, pertains to the fact that no one around the world would be dying during this period. Although a sick woman in a hospital immediately recognizes Joe for whom he really is, and begs him to ease her pain, the film misses its opportunity to play off this notion.

    Since Susan works at a hospital and Parrish owns a media empire -- both of which would inquisitively report on why no one was dying anymore -- the film never addresses that interesting part of the overall premise.

    Despite such objections -- and in particular, the length -- our preview audience seemed to love the film and it should play well, particularly to female moviegoers. Although the subject matter sounds like it could get depressing at times, Brest & company have made sure that the film is uniformly uplifting and entertaining.

    The chemistry among the leads is impeccable and completely believable. The initial encounter between Susan and Joe (before he's Death warmed over) is brimming with romantic sparks, and despite that man's death and Joe Black's subsequent aloofness, the chemistry slowly but surely rebuilds between the two.

    Accompanied by a great, hauntingly sentimental score by past Oscar nominee Thomas Newman ("The Shawshank Redemption) and a luscious production design courtesy of fellow Oscar nominee Dante Ferretti ("Interview With The Vampire"), the film looks and sounds great.

    It's also filled with great performances, a clever script with more laughs than one would probably imagine from a picture such as this, and the life/death premise that's always intriguing. Although it doesn't offer the "It's A Wonderful Life" style lessons, and doesn't hit the obligatory emotional notes until late in the film, it's still quite good and a certain crowd pleaser despite its length. We give "Meet Joe Black" an 8 out of 10.

    Here's a quick look at the content found in this PG-13 rated film. Profanity is heavy due to 1 use of the "f" word, and other uses of the "s" word and "G-damn" (for those concerned with its use) also occur. One sensuous, and more than a minute long sex scene occurs that shows movement and pleasured reactions, but no sounds or explicit nudity (just bare backs, etc...).

    A very brief scene shows a person being hit by several vehicles and flung through the air like a rag doll, and the whole notion of Death coming to visit may be a bit unsettling for some viewers. Beyond some social drinking, a few bad attitudes, and the thematic elements of death and dying however, the rest of the categories have little or no major objectionable content.

  • William and his extended family have wine with dinner on several occasions, and we also see him and Quince with cocktails a few times.
  • William has a drink while Allison has champagne near her.
  • Quine pours himself two glasses of wine and tells Joe that he looks like he could use a drink.
  • None.
  • Some viewers may have a problem with the film dealing with death in the way that it does.
  • Drew has both for undermining William and setting out to improve his situation at the expense of others.
  • We briefly see a man violently hit by several vehicles and his body is flung across the street.
  • William has severe chest pains (something of a heart attack) in the middle of the night and then again at his office.
  • Some may be slightly unsettled by William hearing voices and/or by the thought of Death coming along.
  • None.
  • Phrases: "Sack of sh*t," "Don't blow smoke up my ass," "Kissing ass" and "Balls" (testicles).
  • None.
  • A minor bit of ominous music occurs.
  • None.
  • At least 1 "f" word, 8 "s" words, 8 hells, 3 asses (1 used with "hole"), 2 S.O.B.'s, 1 crap, 1 damn, and 4 uses of "G-damn" and 1 use of "Oh my God" as exclamations.
  • Susan shows a little cleavage in her bathing suit, and again in her evening gown (as does Allison).
  • Susan and Joe passionately and sensuously kiss and then start removing their clothes. We then see Joe caressing her body as she stands in just her bra and underwear. They then remove the rest of their clothes and stand naked while still kissing (no explicit nudity, just bare backs, etc...). They then lay down and have sex with movement and pleasured reactions on their faces, but we don't see any nudity or hear any related sounds.
  • Afterwards, Susan says that making love with him was like doing it with someone making love for the first time, and she asks if he liked making love with her and he says that he did.
  • Later, at a party, Susan tells Joe that she finds him sexy and that "I could make love to you right here."
  • None.
  • William briefly talks about missing his wife (who died sometime ago), and must contend with the knowledge that he'll soon miss his daughters upon his death (and Susan somewhat feels this as well).
  • Death and dying.
  • Living life to its fullest.
  • Although we later learn that Death caused it, a man is accidentally, but violently hit by several cars and we see his body flung across the street.
  • William kicks a table in anger.

  • Reviewed November 10, 1998

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