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MEET JOE BLACK

SYNOPSIS:
A young man and a woman meet in a New York city café. Attracted but too shy to pursue the meeting, they go their ways. The girl, Susan (Claire Forlani) is the daughter of much loved tycoon and widower, William Parrish (Anthony Hopkins), about to celebrate his 65th birthday, with a huge party arranged by his older daughter Allison (Marcia Gay Harden). Strange voices in his head herald the arrival of an enigmatic young man who introduces himself as the incarnation of death. He has the body of the young man in the café. He is here for a bit of a tour of the human condition before taking Bill Parrish away. Along the tour, his human persona falls in love with Susan, who ditches her dad’s right hand man, Drew (Jake Weber) in favour of this mysterious but beautiful young man. Then comes the reckoning for all of them.

"Lacking the whimsy of the 1934 classic, Death Takes A Holiday, which inspired it, and far too earnest about itself, Meet Joe Black is just silly, inflated by mostly excellent performances and outstanding production values. Everything works except the script. And Brad Pitt. The miscalculation in the script’s premise is magnified by a lack of direction for him. Direction could have saved Pitt from making so many big mistakes. Maybe it’s his own fault for being so famous and handsome no-body dares tell him anything to help him. Maybe director Martin Brest didn’t see it. Anyway, the script should never have got the green light: the notion of incarnating death as a sort of wandering spirit looking to experience human life, as a sort of blob, is totally unusable. It is the antithesis of cinema: the central character who doesn’t have one! Everyone keeps asking who he is – but he is no-one. He is first presented as a spirit of great age and wisdom, great insight – he even knows what Anthony Hopkins’ Bill is deeply concerned about. Yet he is a man with no personality or character once the long opening sequence reveals him. Pitt’s confusing performance slips and slides from child to statesman, from bumpkin to sophisticate, from eloquent to stilted and from oaf to wise so recklessly as to be totally incredible. Feminists will be rightly outraged at the sight of a young woman confusing lust with love – he doesn’t even have a sense of humour she can hang on to. To stretch this weak idea into a three hour schmaltz-fest adds injury to insult."
Andrew L. Urban

"The good news and the bad news are packaged together in Meet Joe Black, whose intriguing premise and top performances are counteracted by its length, problematic script and stilted, uninspired direction. The three distinct story lines – the love story, the death story and the human story –are muddled and lack clarity & timing - burdened by a waffling script. A major flaw in the characterisation of Joe Black is that he is presented as a weirdo alien (albeit a handsome one), who at times seems au fait with earthly life, while at others behaves like a being from another planet. Brad Pitt is poorly directed here, and at times we are left only to drool at his extraordinary good looks. It is almost obscene for someone to look this good, and there are ample close ups to satisfy the most demanding of fans. The resulting character is inconsistent and incomplete; maybe there were too many script writers all trying too hard. It's to the credit of the talented cast that despite all these problems, most performances move, engage and stimulate the imagination. Anthony Hopkins gives another wonderful performance, drawing on the minutae of life to bring his character to life. Claire Forlani is delightful as Susan, while Marcia Gay Harden is a real scene stealer as the older daughter who needs to go to extraordinary lengths to be noticed. Thomas Newman's evocative music score enhances and the look of the film is polished and handsome. Should you greet and meet Joe Black? Brad Pitt fans, yes. Lovers of good cinema? No."
Louise Keller

"The one annoying aspect of Meet Joe Black, is that this is the classic example of a film that might have been. It's a case of misspent ideas and wasted talent, all jumbled up in a screenplay that is only half strong. If only the film's direction and screenplay were focused; if only the film's young leads had a reasonable amount of charisma; if only the film had delved more into the emotional journey confronted by Bill Parrish. This is a movie full of if onlys, yet, there is at times a slight resonance of something here that is fulfilling. To begin with, however, the film's problem is that director Martin Brest has no idea of when to say 'cut'. For the kind of film this is, or at least ought to be, Meet Joe Black is excessively long. He deals with a relatively simple story in 3 hours, yet the original film upon which this is based, did it all in 78 minutes. The film is poorly cut together and its length is due to endless repetition of dialogue and scenes, and Pinteresque pausing which slows down the film excessively. The film's length is also due to a muddled script credited with no less than four writers. There are at least three separate films going on here, from the integral journey of Hopkins' dying mogul Bill Parrish, to the ridiculous love story between Death and the insipid Susan; to some even sillier subplot involving a take over bid, and a nasty future son-in-law, treated in a simplistic Hollywood fashion. There are some wonderful moments in Meet Joe Black, the odd set piece, such as the genuinely emotive finale, featuring a spectacular birthday party, and there are some beautifully orchestrated sequences. But most of those belong to Hopkins."
Paul Fischer

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CRITICAL COUNT
Favourable: 0
Unfavourable: 1
Mixed: 2

TRAILER

See Nick Rodick's interview with
BO GOLDMAN

MEET JOE BLACK (M)
(US)

CAST: Brad Pitt, Anthony Hopkins, Claire Forlani, Jake Weber, Marcia Gay Harden, Jeffrey Tambor, David S. Howard

DIRECTOR: Martin Brest

PRODUCER: Martin Brest

SCRIPT: Ron Osborn & Jeff Reno and Kevin Wade and Bo Goldman

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Emmanuel Lubezki ASC

EDITOR: Joe Hutshing ACE, Michael Tronisk ACE

MUSIC: Thomas Newman

PRODUCTION DESIGN: Dante Ferretti

RUNNING TIME: 180 minutes

AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: UIP

AUSTRALIAN RELEASE DATE: March 11, 1999

VIDEO RELEASE: July 28, 1999

VIDEO DISTRIBUTOR: CIC Video

VIDEO RELEASE (TO OWN): February 23, 2000

VIDEO DISTRIBUTOR: Universal Pictures Video

RRP: $19.95







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