When the grim reaper comes to collect the soul of megamogul Bill Parrish, he arrives with a proposition: Host him for a "vacation" among the living in trade for a few more days of existence. Parrish agrees, and using the pseudonym Joe Black, Death begins taking part in Parrish's daily agenda and falls in love with the man's daughter. Yet when Black's holiday is over, so is Parrish's life.
***Captivating commentary on love, life and death*** The Grim Reaper (i.e. the Angel of Death) comes to take billionaire industrialist Bill Parrish (Anthony Hopkins) but instead decides to take a holiday in the corporeal universe by possessing the body of a young man (Brad Pitt). Death's deal with Parrish is that, as long as he's entertained, he'll delay Bill's death. Mr. Death materializes as a mysterious stranger with child-like qualities known as 'Joe Black.' His "holiday" is complicated when he falls for Parrish's daughter (Claire Forlani). "Meet Joe Black" (1998) is a re-imagining of the 1934 film "Death Takes a Holiday" (which I've never seen). It has the confidence to take its time at almost 3 hours, but is so captivating that it feels shorter than most 90-minute mindless flicks. The plot is reminiscent of other good "fish out of water" stories like Spock in Star Trek, “Starman” (1984), etc. Yes, it's outlandish but the film expertly presents the bizarre situation in a totally believable manner. In other words, this is indeed a serious drama, which nicely balances out the heavy moments with lighter touches. I would compare it to "The Green Mile" (1999), another long drama with supernatural touches and wholly captivating. Despite its fantastical premise, "Meet Joe Black" consistently offers profound insights to the most vital topics of the human experience — love, life, death and numerous others, e.g. betrayal, rivalry, hostility, comeuppance and the mysterious beyond. One good example is when Parrish's son-in-law (Jeffrey Tambor) offers a definition of love to Joe Black: To know the worst thing about someone and it's okay, presuming they’re penitent. This is just one example; the film is filled with such insights. "Meet Joe Black" cost $90 million to make and only made half of it back at the USA box office. Fortunately it has gone on to garner an enthusiastic following and rightly so 'cause this is a near-masterpiece of filmmaking and genuinely moving. I consider myself a masculine man, but tears flowed through approximately 1/3 of the runtime. This is a sign of a potent and affecting picture. It's a travesty that dreck like "Pirates of the Caribbean" makes gazillions of dollars and garbage like "American Beauty" are hailed as masterpieces while true gems like "Joe Black" are often overlooked. The good thing is that time was on Joe Black's side. The word got out. The film runs 2 hours, 58 minutes, and was shot in Warwick, Rhode Island (Aldrich Mansion); Manhattan; and Teaneck, New Jersey. GRADE: A/A-