Original release: November 13th, 1998
Running time: 181 minutes
Director: Martin Brest
Writers: Bo Goldman, Kevin Wade
Composer: Thomas Newman
Cast: Brad Pitt, Anthony Hopkins, Claire Forlani, Jake Weber, Marcia Gay Harden
Death is a funny thing. We all know it’s coming, but each and every one of us is surprised when it arrives.
For media tycoon Bill Parrish (Anthony Hopkins), Death comes in the form of Brad Pitt. No scythe, or cloak, just blue eyes and blond highlights. Instead of taking Bill into the great hereafter, he offers him a few days to finish off a company merger in return for letting him stay at his house.
Bill accepts and introduces the new houseguest to family and friends as ‘Joe Black’. Joe starts enjoying all that life has to offer, including peanut butter straight from the jar. When he meets Bill’s daughter, Susan (Claire Forlani), she thinks her father’s new houseguest is a little creepy and doesn’t understand why he behaves so oddly, especially as they’ve met before.
Susan’s under the impression Joe is the same man she met at a coffee shop some ago, but what she doesn’t know is that he was killed shortly afterwards in a bizarre road accident and Death has taken his form. As they fall in love, Bill becomes concerned Joe will take his daughter with him when he leaves, but with his own time running out and the merger almost complete, he has to find a way to change Joe’s mind.
Meet Joe Black is loosely based on a 1934 film, Death Takes A Holiday, and it has a certain charm to it. There are some wonderful and unexpected scenes, such as when Joe and Susan first meet. They’re immediately drawn to each other and as they leave the shop, they continue to look back to see if the other is looking.
This goes on for some time until Joe is standing in the middle of a busy street. Susan never sees what happens next, and no matter how many times I’ve watched the scene, it always comes as surprise, as I’m sure it does to Joe.
One of the problems I found with the story was why Susan would fall in love with him when they meet later on. Although he looks like the man she met at the coffee shop, he really isn’t. Is she solely smitten with his looks? Another thing which puzzled me about it was if Death is on a holiday, who’s managing his workload?
As Bill tries to get Joe to see that love involves making sacrifices for the other person, the story hits an emotional peak. For the first time, Death is experiencing human emotions and he can’t bear the thought of leaving without Susan.
It takes a rather long time to arrive at this, considering there’s a lot included about Bill’s merger deal, which for the most part is uninteresting and left me wondering why the film needed to be 181 minutes when half of that would’ve sufficed.
Meet Joe Black ultimately suffers because of this and stands as an example of why less is sometimes more. Despite this though, it does contain some very likable performances, least of all by Anthony Hopkins as a man who wants what we want in the end – a little more time.
The founder of Static Mass Emporium and one of its Editors in Chief is a composer and music producer with a philosophy degree. Static Mass is where he lives his passion for film and writing about it. A fan of film classics, documentaries and World Cinema, Patrick prefers films with an impeccable way of storytelling that reflect on the human condition.
You can find his music on Soundcloud .