A Painfully Long and Painfully Slow Death
"Meet Joe Black" contains all the elements to make for a total knockout of a movie. The actual storyline of death taking a holiday is interesting and clever, it brings romance and drama as well as a touch of comedy to the mix and it also features some wonderful performances. But all of what is good about "Meet Joe Black" is undone by the fact at just short of 3 hours it is both painfully long and equally as painfully slow. By the time it's over you are glad and the thoughts going through your head are not of what a great movie you've just watched by why did it need to be so bloody long.
With his 65th birthday looming, corporate tycoon William Parrish (Anthony Hopkins - The Mask of Zorro) knows something is wrong when he starts getting chest pains and hearing strange voices. During a family dinner he receives a surprise visitor in the form of Death in human form who offers him the chance to live longer if he will act as his guide whilst he is on earth. Agreeing, William introduces Death to his family as Joe Black (Brad Pitt - Sleepers) and immediately ruffles feathers when William's daughter Susan (Claire Forlani - The Rock) takes an interest in him, much to the annoyance of her boyfriend Drew (Jake Weber). But whilst William has to worry about his daughter falling in love with the innocent like Joe he also has to worry about Drew who as a member of his businesses has ideas of grandeur.
Now although the idea of death taking a holiday is clever it is also not original as "Meet Joe Black" can find its roots back in a 1934 movie called "Death Takes a Holiday". But it doesn't really matter because the whole concept is not an often used one and so watching William Parrish acting as tour guide to death, in human form, in a deal to live a little longer makes for an interesting movie. In fact this whole side of "Meet Joe Black" is both interesting and amusing as we watch death experience living for the first time, a complete blank canvas when it comes to how to act as a human. It provides plenty of laughs as Joe, as death is named, repeats words because he knows no better but the whole time there is this deviousness which flows beneath the blank look.
But the storyline about death taking a holiday is only part of "Meet Joe Black" as in the mix we get a romantic storyline as Joe falls for William's daughter Susan, a complex situation as other than William no one knows that Joe is death. And then there is a further storyline about a devious board member who is trying to oust William from his own company. All of which works well together mixing nicely so you go from death understanding about worldly ways, through to romance and then almost a sense of being a thriller as William faces business issues.
The trouble is that all of these storylines could have fitted nicely into a movie which came in around the 2 hour mark but instead director Martin Brest delivers a movie which is only a few minutes less than 3 hours. And by doing this "Meet Joe Black" feels painfully slow as scenes drag on long past most people's attention span causing it to be a laborious movie. There is no denying that every single scene is beautifully shot, the dialogue is spot on and the acting delivers it perfectly but long silences and no sense of urgency detracts from all which is good.
And what is disappointing is that for a movie which delivers some surprises and a few twists ends up delivering such a dull ending. It just feels so wrong, so naff that you can feel the groans of disgust rumbling from deep inside as the credits begin to roll.
The saving grace for "Meet Joe Black" is that the acting throughout is spot on and manages to make these often long scenes a little less painful. Anthony Hopkins adds a bit of class to the movie making his character more than just 2 dimensional back ground noise as the storyline focuses on the romance between Joe and Susan. The confidence he delivers as William when it comes to business is a joy to watch. And then there is Brad Pitt who whilst some may not rate this performance works for me. He manages to make Joe an innocent as he learns about life but then also gives him a darker side without it being a too bigger character shift. Making up the trio of good performances is Claire Forlani as Susan and the chemistry between her and Pitt works so well especially during the sensual sex scene. This trio are not alone as "Meet Joe Black" also features solid performances from Jake Weber, Marcia Gay Harden and Jeffrey Tambor in minor roles.
What this all boils down to is that "Meet Joe Black" ends up a good movie instead of a great one for the simple reason that it is both painfully long and painfully slow. The fact that the storyline is interesting, the blend of drama, romance and a touch of comedy works and the acting is good means nothing because it all becomes too laborious. All of which is a real shame as the actual storyline whilst not original is different from so many other movies it comes across as interesting and clever.