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Meet Joe Black

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Anthony Hopkins and Brad Pitt star in Meet Joe Black

Film Review By Jack Nichols

joeblack1.jpg - 28.24 K Devilish Brad Pitt plays Death in Meet Joe Black I confess to allowing myself a certain silliness when the subject matter is Brad Pitt. His face, I often contend, is Hollywood's grandest sex organ. And why? Because he's able to reflect a panoply of feelings—more so than any male star I can ever recall. In Meet Joe Black, this ability of his is demonstrated to perfection as he sucks on a spoon covered with what? Peanut butter.

Yes, Meet Joe Black is thus a thriller of a different sort. Each cast member has--almost to a tee--exactly what Brad has: a face awash in pure feeling.

Sure, its running time is a full 170 minutes, and though this minor matter may bother some harried and hurried city folk like Janet Maslin, a witless reviewer for the New York Times, there's no foot dragging in this film unless you're the sort whose idea of a thrill demands murders by the minute or auto chases in perpetuity.

"There is nothing more beautiful than love and death," wrote Walt Whitman. Meet Joe Black makes this otherwise mysterious verse crystal clear. The Times'reviewer had to reach critically all the way back to 1934 to find a movie in which Death Takes a Holiday – a film that makes death a focus lens for philosophy instead of something viewers simply watch horrorstricken but to which few give thought. It is now 1998, however, and its time to focus once again on love and death and on how they intertwine. Meet Joe Black is a film that—if taken seriously—can improve one's life.

joeblack2.jpg - 38.05 K Granted, walking into death's mystery with Brad Pitt makes death less fearsome. If it isn't a bang, as Eliot contends, neither is it a whimper. Death's mystery, finally, is wound inextricably with life's—and William Parrish (Anthony Hopkins)—playing a 65-year old dying man—demonstrates this fact with an impressively wise demeanor. He quickly seems to know everything that a successfully alive person should know—one who, at 60-- has reached what the Japanese call the years of celebration.

The cast is small. There's only one villain—a manipulative yuppie expertly played by Jake Webber. Quince (Jeffrey Tambor) puts forth his very best as a well-intentioned but somewhat bumbling assistant to the boss. His wife, Allison (Marcia Gay Harden) one of two of the dying man's daughters, loves her geeky husband because, he reveals, their affection survives even though they have no secrets from each other. Both, in fact, are bumblers—but good-hearted nevertheless. This one fact saves them from being tragic.

joeblack4.jpg - 38.73 K Claire Forloni plays Susan Parrish in Meet Joe Black The other daughter, Susan Parrish (Claire Forloni) is, to date, the best-matched beauty to play opposite Brad Pitt in any of his films, the most understandably human of such specimens. And this is why Joe Black (Brad Pitt)—a pseudonym for Death's human incarnation—feels drawn to her with such a passion.

Joe Black, who, through all eternity has, apparently, never before stopped to examine the lives he takes with him into the nether-realms, also incarnates a fetching innocence that is heavenly to watch. He does what Brad Pitt does best and that makes him such a hit among his admirers: expressions. Meet Joe Black is a feast of close-ups, of attitudes, of faces.

And in this respect, I must admit, Anthony Hopkins gives Brad Pitt a run for his money. Though these two have worked together before (Legends of the Fall) in Meet Joe Black their extraordinary talents are the most evenly matched.

Granted, Hopkins' character may be, in fact, the stereotype of a "happy mogul"—a rich man who has made it through the eye of the needle. And there's something admittedly 1940s about the magnificently lavish settings—an American castle on the Hudson, a penthouse in Manhattan, a garden party and a swing band. And surely, though money can't necessarily buy happiness, the point in the Joe Black script is not to flash soulless wealth, but to point to wealth in the soul. Hopkins' character isn't about money-making, therefore. It's about the real meaning of success, about those factors that take from Death its sting.

If not everybody gets an opportunity to die as effectively as Hopkins' character does, not everybody goes to the grave armed with the kind of knowledge he portrays. Race, therefore, and don't just walk to the nearest theatre where you'll sop up some Meet Joe Black type wisdom. It doesn't hurt to think about death, after, all, since it's the one thing—other than taxes—you can be sure of.
Photos Courtesy of Universal Pictures and

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