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Meet Joe Black

movie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Meet Joe Black

Starring: Brad Pitt, Anthony Hopkins
Director: Martin Brest
Rated: PG-13
RunTime: 180 Minutes
Release Date: November 1998
Genres: Drama, Romance, Sci-Fi/Fantasy

*Also starring: Claire Forlani, Jake Weber, Marcia Gay Harden, Jeffrey Tambor

Review by Greg King
3 stars out of 4

The Grim Reaper comes to earth in the delectable form of Brad Pitt in Martin (Scent Of A Woman) Brest's $90 million remake of the 1934 romantic comedy Death Takes A Holiday. Pitt plays death, who adapts a human form to learn more about what makes us mere mortals tick. He has ostensibly come to claim William Parrish (Anthony Hopkins), a self-made millionaire, but decides to spend a week in his company learning more about the human condition. Parrish is the only one aware of Pitt's true identity, and he introduces the enigmatic stranger to his family as Joe Black.

It is the week of Parrish's 65th birthday, and his oldest daughter Allison (Marcia Gay Harden, from Flubber, etc) is planning a lavish party. Parrish also has to deal with a take-over bid from a business rival who wants to strip his global communication company and sell off its assets. He also has to deal with treachery from within his own board. Parrish has plenty of time to come to terms with his own mortality and the legacy that he will leave behind.

Meanwhile, Joe falls heavily in love with Parrish's beautiful young daughter Susan (Claire Forlani, Sean Connery's daughter in The Rock, etc). As with his character in the recent Seven Years In Tibet, Pitt's human incarnation of Death undergoes a spiritual transformation, as he comes to learn about love, loss and the pain of being human. Inevitably, some hard choices will have to be made, both by Joe and Parrish.

Meet Joe Black explores some wonderful themes and ideas, and the climax delivers a superb emotional payoff. Unfortunately, it takes far too long to get there. Brest's deliberately languid direction perfectly suits the occasionally sombre tone of the material, but, at nearly three hours long, the pace tends to drag and many in the audience will tire of the film. The 1934 version told much the same story in half the time. With judicious trimming of some unnecessary padding, Meet Joe Black would be tighter and far more enjoyable.

However, the film does have its compensations. It looks fabulous, thanks to the opulent production design of Dante Ferretti, a favourite of Scorsese, and the warm cinematography of Emmanuel Lubezki. There is also the usual strong performance from the dependable Hopkins. And Pitt and Forlani make a handsome, attractive couple - eye candy for the younger generation. The camera loves Pitt, and seems to caress his blue eyes, his seductive smile and his air of boyish innocence. If only death always looked this good then we might be more willing to go quietly into that dark night.

Meeting Joe Black is not such a bad experience, it just could have been so much more enjoyable and memorable!

Copyright 2000 Greg King

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