Meet Joe Black
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"Careful Bill, you'll give yourself a heart attack and ruin my vacation." The finality of death is inarguably the greatest sadness faced by humanity. At any instant, any of us could cease to exist without any warning. It's a morbid and depressing reality, but every single one of us is going to die someday. If your life was to terminate in a few short days, how would you spend your final hours on Earth? With loved ones? Would you pursue the fulfilment of your lifelong dreams? Watch your favourite movie and listen to your favourite music just once more? Give up and simply mourn your imminent passing? Running at a hair under three hours, Meet Joe Black - director Martin Brest's loose adaptation of the 1934 motion picture Death Takes a Holiday - is an absorbing, contemplative examination of death. The protagonist of the movie is faced with his imminent demise, and confronted with the question of how he should spend the final days of his life. Meet Joe Black posits the idea that the Grim Reaper wants to tour the world as a mortal human. To be his tour guide, he selects multi-millionaire and successful corporate tycoon William Parrish (Hopkins) whose soon-to-be-celebrated 65th birthday will be his last. During the lead-up to his birthday, Bill begins to hear a mysterious voice inside his head. After dismissing this as a mere hallucination, he's soon visited by Death, adopting the name Joe Black (Pitt), personified in the body of a recently-deceased young man. Bill is told he's about to die, but will be given more time in exchange for acting as Death's earthly guide. As long as the Grim Reaper remains interested, he will remain on holiday. But once he tires of life and wishes to return to the "next place", he'll take Bill with him. During his self-appointed vacation, Death is educated in valuable lessons about humanity, in addition to learning about love as he develops strong feelings for Bill's daughter Susan (Forlani). After Martin Brest was initially intrigued by the premise of Death Takes a Holiday, he spent several decades developing a screenplay for his own take on the premise with which he felt comfortable. After completing Scent of a Woman in 1992, Brest turned his attention to Meet Joe Black which was at long last released in 1998. For Universal Pictures, the movie probably seemed like a great idea, but gradually developed into something of a nuisance. It ran over-budget, and its production period was far longer than scheduled. With its three-hour runtime, the film received predominantly negative reviews and it underperformed at the box office. Although the film curiously manages to remain enthralling over its runtime, the three-hour runtime for such a simple story seems unnecessary. In human form, Death doesn't possess the aura of authority one would expect, and seems virtually childlike in his lack of familiarity of the simplest human behaviour. However, the script cheats with Joe Black by keeping his character inconsistent. Whenever it's convenient for Joe to be perplexed and nave, he is placed in that position. Yet there are times when the character must exhibit power and understanding in order to further the plot, and thus Joe suddenly speaks and thinks in ways which were seemingly impossible to him earlier. For instance, just as a viewer accepts Death as an untutored individual, he suddenly summons the ability to converse with a dying woman in her native Jamaican dialect. Why is it that he's unable to speak simple English, but is fluent in Jamaican? In addition, Joe has no knowledge of how to conduct himself during board meetings, but seems to know a great deal about the business world when he needs to turn the tables in Bill's favour. The intention of this review is not to compare the film with Death Takes a Holiday, since Brest's adaptation is an independent entity which just further explores the underlying concept. Yet, Meet Joe Black lacks a crucial constituent which was a major feature of Death Takes a Holiday: exploring how the universe would cope with the Grim Reaper on vacation. The original movie potently illustrated a world with sickness and injury but without death, but this fascinating aspect is almost entirely ignored by Meet Joe Black, which spends its three-hour duration concentrating on a budding romance and a corporate takeover scheme. The only shred of evidence of this concept being explored in Brest's film is in a subplot involving the aforementioned dying Jamaican woman. However this woman's pain is superficial - she implores Death to "take" her, but we never really feel her pain. Another pertinent flaw is the overuse of dramatic pauses, with Brest's camera observing the characters as they exchange unnecessarily prolonged, longing glances. Regardless of its flaws, there's a great deal to appreciate about Meet Joe Black. It's excellent, mature entertainment, and in no way is it an overly bloated or indulgent affair - it's merely in no hurry to examine the lives of its protagonists. The film occasionally feels its three-hour length, but it keeps you interested thanks to wonderful acting and sublime visual allure. The $90 million budget is employed effectively, with terrific production design and a truly wonderful score courtesy of Thomas Newman. Anthony Hopkins, it would seem, is incapable of delivering a dud performance. This role affords Hopkins a number of scenes in which he can convey the humanity and reflection of a man who has lived a great life, but is forced to come to terms with the fact that it's drawing to a close. Hopkins is strong-willed as William Parrish; he's somewhat comical at times, while intimidating and chilling at other times. Brad Pitt's performance as Death is enormously effective. Pitt plays his character with admirable conviction, and his demeanour is beautifully understated, nave and unique; conveying that his character has no idea what it means to be human. Meanwhile Claire Forlani submits a tremendously nuanced portrayal of Bill's daughter Susan - she's convincing and engaging, though at times she resembles a deer caught in a car's headlights. Jake Weber is suitably contemptible as Drew, while top-shelf support is provided by Marcia Gay Harden and Jeffrey Tambor. With sharper editing, tauter direction and a few script revisions, Meet Joe Black could've been a far superior motion picture. Be that as it may, this is a film of limitless charm which is certainly worth watching for its penetrating views of mortality and its audacious intentions. Long but curiously never boring, and spiritual but never soggy, this is a brand of cinematic entertainment Hollywood rarely gets right. While the definitive version of Death Takes a Holiday is yet to be made, Meet Joe Black remains an admirable, engaging attempt.
- PvtCaboose91, Saturday, January 30, 2010
Such a bland movie that has no idea if it's a comedy or a drama. While its stars are quite good, the supporting cast was weak and hurt its integrity. The story was very interesting, but it didn't feel like it was taken all that seriously.
- ythelastman89, Wednesday, November 25, 2009