Meet Joe Black - Even Death needs a holiday!

I’d like to start this review by saying this is one of my absolute favourite films of the 90’s. Meet Joe Black was released in 1998 and was directed by Martin Brest (probably most famous for “Scent of a Woman”).

Death decides to take a holiday. The supernatural entity takes the form of a young man, played by Brad Pitt. Death asks a media mogul to act as a guide, to teach him about life on Earth and why mortals cling to it with such ferocity. The man he happens to select is William Parish, also known as ‘Bill’. He is played by Anthony Hopkins who is, of course, fantastic as always. Approaching his 65th birthday Bill is a man who seems to have it all; success, wealth and power. In exchange for extra time with his family Bill agrees to take the mysterious stranger ‘Joe Black’ (the name given to him by Bill) under his wing and into his home. He regrets this decision when Joe unexpectedly falls in love with his youngest daughter, and apple of his eye, Susan played by Claire Forlani.

We open on Bill going about his usual day, rudely interrupted by a sudden heart attack. Additional scenes about sibling rivalry and a corporate takeover, though mainly just fluff, cleverly keep us interested in the life of Bill. The adorable buddy character of Quince (Jeffrey Tambor) Bill’s loyal but bumbling son-in-law are very heartfelt and moving. This allows the audience to be swept up into Joe and Susan’s unusual romance.

Brad Pitt in Meet Joe Black

It is these romance scenes that provide us the novelty of a rare movie love scene where the camera is focused on the man's face, not the woman's. It’s not until you see this that you realise, but it’s a refreshing change.
However the fact so much of the focus is on Joe does get a little bit like drinking cold coffee (less desirable the longer it sits there) and the relationship of Joe and Susan is not the lightning strike moment we are promised. It falls flat. Susan spends most of the film trying to fathom who and what Joe is. Joe is presented in the narrative as being new to humanity and human bodies which Pitt plays as a almost silent shadow of a person who continually has the look of “the cat who got the cream”on his face. Good job it’s a cute face.

On the flip side Hopkins’ performance is entirely solid. He portrays the gentleman and imbues the dying millionaire with intelligence and a level of humbling acceptance, he delivers his lines wonderfully. 

Meet Joe Black consists of a lot of dialogue but fortunately it is largely well-written and doesn't seem false or forced, particularly when Anthony Hopkins is on one side of the exchange! The ending does drag on a little too long but by this point we don’t care, the music and the presence of Hopkins dialogue with Pitt is enough that we could watch until we expired.

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written by Sera Bryant

Meet Joe Black [DVD] [1999]
Starring Brad Pitt, Anthony Hopkins, Claire Forlani, Jake Weber, Marcia Gay Harden