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At-A-Glance Film Reviews

Meet Joe Black (1998)



Reviews and Comments

What would happen if Death took a vacation, hung around on Earth for a while, and fell in love? I would think a lot more would happen than happens in this film, and I would have liked to have seen a movie that explored the ramifications of such a premise in more detail. But that's not the kind of movie Meet Joe Black is, and I can't fault a movie for not being what it never intended to be.

Instead, the movie is a romance, a character study, and an exploration of human virtues. When an otherwise unfeeling supernatural agent enters the foreign world of humanity and is suddenly confronted with human emotions, what does he learn, and what does it say about humanity in general?

Death, played by Brad Pitt, is an alternately amusing and frustrating character we don't know whether to love or hate. That I liked -- rather than doing our thinking for us, the movie puts the burden of decision on the viewer. You can't lie back and enjoy the ride: you have to figure out where you're going and how you feel about it yourself.

What didn't quite ring true was Death's understanding of humanity. It stands to reason that a foreign being that nevertheless works closely with humankind would have a fractured understanding of us -- he'd be profound about some things and ignorant about others. And indeed, that's how he's portrayed. But what he's knowledgeable about and what he isn't doesn't always make sense.

But I enjoyed the story, and I even enjoyed its leisurely -- make that very leisurely -- pace. When all was said and done, I was moved and satisfied, but perhaps not as much as I would have liked to have been. What put the movie over the top for me was a magnificent performance by Anthony Hopkins, as the man scheduled to die that Death uses to introduce him to the human world. Hopkins has an amazing screen presence; he can portray a starkly realized, tangible, feeling character without even appearing to try. Amidst the plot (which is a busy one, though the leisurely pace may suggest otherwise) and all the ideas and themes, Hopkins' elegant performance was the highlight for me.