Meet Joe Black
directed by Martin Brest
(Universal, 1998)

If you pay attention to other reviews and comments about Meet Joe Black, you might be convinced that it's a waste of time, a waste of money and a waste of celluloid.

You might be wrong.

This is one of those movies that falls into the "love it or hate it" category. Not everyone who watches it will fall under its spell, but for those who give it a chance, it's a breathtaking film of beauty, character and grace that is all too often lacking in Hollywood films today.

Anthony Hopkins, in a delightful performance, plays William Parrish, a man who is king of his own empire. He has worked hard for his wealth, he loves his family and, at one time, enjoyed a passion for life that few others share. Now, at the pinnacle of his life, he is faced with his own mortality, taken to the brink of death -- and then offered a choice.

Death (played with an otherworldly beauty by Brad Pitt) is bored with his job. He sees an opportunity in Parrish to get a taste of life, guided by a man who has embraced it with every fiber of his being. They strike a deal -- Parrish will act as a guide for the man he introduces as Joe Black and in return, gets to live. And, of course, there's a girl involved....

Meet Joe Black is a long movie, coming in at just under three hours. There are very few special effects. It's pacing is more reminiscent of classic Hollywood films; the set design is breathtaking to see and the actors are completely engaged in interacting with each other and not a green screen.

The length of the movie is a chief complaint for many, but I found that the length and the pacing are what made the movie great. The subject matter and the story are so huge that it takes time for the characters to make their journey, a journey that I found myself fascinated with. Pitt's portrayal of Death is nuanced, menacing, cold and childlike -- all at the same time. While Hopkins and Claire Forlani (as Susan, Parrish's daughter) shine and bring a very real emotional and human depth to the movie, it's Pitt's performance that stands out here. Whether he's discovering peanut butter or making love for the first time, he conveys more emotion through body language and expression than many actors do through pages of dialogue. The story itself follows a number of plots and leads to an ending that delivers on its promise rather than taking the easy way out.

If you like a slower-paced movie, made more with an "old Hollywood" feel, then check this one out. Curl up on the couch with a bowl of popcorn and your favorite drink nearby. Turn out the lights, turn off the phone and just indulge for a few hours. It's worth it.

by Crystal Kocher
24 September 2005

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