Meet Joe Black

Brad Pitt gives new meaning to that oft-heard phrase, "Take me now!" Those of you who may previously have feared death could possibly find yourself unexpectedly awaiting renewal the moment you go toward the light. As Freddy once sang, "Who wants to live forever?" and who would have thought that three hours with Death could make one feel so good?

Media tycoon William Parrish (Anthony Hopkins), the man who seems to have everything, suddenly feels a pang in his chest, but not of his conscience, when he hears a mysterious, almost muffled, and always warm voice addressing him with odd comments (some of which he originally came out of his own mouth). It doesn't occur to him (or, at least, he tries not to let it show) that Mr. D (or, in this case, Mr. B) is coming to take him away. That is, not until "the man" shows up in person, in his own home, and tells him, while wandering between the numerous volumes of the library (in Brad Pitt's flesh, no less), that his time is up, but suggests a bargain could be struck so that a delay to Mr. Parrish's final flight can be arranged. You see, Mr. B wants to kick his heels around this down-to-earth planet a little and get a taste of it (as well as peanut butter), before returning to his infinite and endless task of swinging scythes. A little outing, a small holiday, is what he has in mind and, as long as this is true, William Parrish can hang onto dear life as long as Joe doesn't find himself getting bored. Once Joe feels rigor-boredom setting in, however, it'll be back to work for Joe; and bye- bye for Bill.

'Meet Joe Black © copyright 1998 Universal City/ UIP
photo: Phillip V. Caruso'
Now there's a fly in the ointment, so to speak, because the real body of Pitt used to belong to "a new boy in town" who earlier that morning was phoning home from a New York City coffeeshop only minutes before he inattentively got thrown through the air by a passing automobile. Before this unfortunate set of circumstances occurred, as fate would have it, he was lucky enough (in a star- crossed kind of way) to meet Susan Parrish (Claire Forlani) and, let me tell you, the sparks were flying over the cups of coffee in that greasy spoon where more than breakfast was being served up. To say the least, this lovely lady turned the young man's head. And vice versa.

When first we see him again after this encounter, he has been transformed into Star Man from the Nether World.

Hopkins, as usual, glides through his role with absolute perfection, so masterfully is he in control of this portrayal. Pitt makes death an enjoyable enterprise, despite those moments when he's less than nice. Claire Forlani is incredible as Susan Parrish and has a seemingly instinctual rapport with the camera; she merely has to turn her head or move her eyes in order to tell us more than words could ever say. She makes so many moments believable, even in the face of death.

As time goes on (to use a phrase) Mr. Black unexpectedly finds himself developing not only an affection for human life, but an even stronger one for the delightful Miss Parrish. This intelligent, available, and lovely woman hails from an influential family and is sufficiently acquainted with grandiosity that she seems the perfect match for a man of Mr. Black's means. There's only one little problem: she's still alive.

Nearing the end of the tale, the team of Mr. Parrish and Mr. Black seem to have become almost eternally united as an incomparable team (e.g. Laurel and Hardy, Morcombe and Wise, Abbott and Costello, Parrish and Black) most obviously as they do their good-cop, bad-cop routine to the tune of such unforgettable numbers as "You're Getting to Be a Habit with Me" and "Anything Goes" while foiling the villain. The background music played by the band during the final party scene creates a humorous running commentary parallel to the main events on screen. The two olden goldies already mentioned are joined by several other wonderful numbers as "Our Love is Here to Stay," Let's Face the Music and Dance," "Isn't This a Lovely Day," "Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man," "Cheek to Cheek," and "Where or When". A bit of imagination will help you picture how appropriate these songs can be. "What a Wonderful World" also manages to play on our emotions and (who would ever believe that a director would take this chance?) the closing titles even manage to get an heart-lifting response from "Somewhere Over the Rainbow". Oh, Judy, you've got to see it to believe it.

Director/producer Martin Brest has spent almost two decades with the idea of making this film, but realized that it would demand a cleverly written, well- proportioned script to make the story a convincing one. The result would seem to prove it was worth waiting for. The finished film lasts almost three hours, but it still manages to leave you wanting more.

The credits announce that no less than four people (Ron Osborn, Jeff Reno, Kevin Wade, and Bo Goldman) wrote the screenplay, and, although this large a number of screenwriters on a production can often spell death to any film that manages to survive them, this time around we are dealing with four exceptionally talented scenarists who have crafted the rare and enjoyable, as well as exceptional, story. What a joy it is to watch and what a wonderful time they must have had writing it. Director Brest has managed to take even the most difficult of moments and with the assistance of a sublime cast helped the viewer to pass the border and move into the line of willful suspension. One comes away feeling so good! Quite a trick and there's nothing like it.

The production standards are first rate on all sides, but a word of praise is not out of place for the magnificent tableaux set forth by production designer Dante Feretti. Once his name is attached to a film, one knows that a visual treat is to follow. And, as he proves during this film's concluding scene, he certainly knows how to throw a party. (Dante in Paradise!)

Totally enjoyable. A real weepy that manages to carry itself off.

The super-sensitive should bring along a box of tissues.

© 1994-2006 The Green Hartnett