Meet Joe Black

Reviewed By Thom
Posted 11/22/99 09:16:41

"Fall in love with a mysterious stranger."
3 stars (Average)

What could have been an intriguing late twenty-first century take on the medieval personification of abstract ideas, such as Death, or Mercy, is hopelessy derailed as it becomes a love story about an incarnated force that discovers human love. Of course its just a metaphor for us ACTUAL humans and that's where the crux of this movie lies.

Brad Pitt stars opposite Claire Forlani and Anthony Hopkins in this adaptation of the medieval mystery play. Pitt plays the personification of death and plays it very well. Although there are moments where it looks like Pitt is just going through a series of acting exercises, the cumulative effect is very charming a la Chaplin. The baroque flourishes that emerge generously in Pitt's perfomance make it a pleasure to watch.
If you want to fall in love with a mysterious stranger, you can't get much more mysterious then "times infinity to the depths of forever and that is how long I've been around".

The story is not complex, nor are the subplots. The whole script seems to be just a thin scaffold to showcase the process of falling in love with the person with whom lightening strikes. And as the adage goes, it only strikes once. In this case, the fated lovers are Death, played by Pitt and Susan, played by Claire Forlani.

Death takes a body and wants a tour of human life. He chooses one man on the verge of a heart attack and trades him a few more weeks of life if he'll act as a tour guide. The potential conflicts of this plot are not developed and all the rough spots are glossed over smoothly because... its not really about Death incarnating and wanting to experience life, its about Susan and the mysterious stranger falling in love.

And fall in love they do with style, passion, grace, tears and even fireworks.

I hope Forlani is never cast in a role where that questioning, disbelieving trademark squint and then peer off into an unknown distance is not an asset. Movies can forgive a lot more than the stage but facial expressions as well as the embodiment of the mannerisms of a character are part of the whole toolbox of communication available to an actor. Claire has a wratchet with one bit. She's pretty and soft and has nice skin, but lacks fizz. Her whole mannerism in Mallrats, Mystery Men and Joe Black is built on that one expression. I think she probably thinks she is a natural, and has never spent any time watching the way normal people go about their business. If you want to take a character and amplify it, you need to give it some attributes and then pull them off the ground. Claire clips the wings off her performace by refusing to get out of her normal frame of mind and actually create a character rather than just extend one part of her personality. But what the hell, Christopher Walken has had a long and thriving career based on one character. One very annoying character.

Pitt gets to show more of his range. He is just so talented, I wonder how hard he works to get into these roles. His Jamaican accent was flawless and a nice surprise. Of course, there was a the requisite scene where he is disrobed, almost like a gift being unwrapped for the audience. I don't mind the beefcake element (boy, do I ever not mind) but I'm glad there as an actor of depth and range underneath it all.

He doesn't completely transform from role to role the way Meryl Streep or Toni Collette does, but he not only chooses atypical anti-hero roles, he adds so much to their interpretation.

Marcia Gay Harden and Jeff Tambor give weak supporting performances as Allison and Quince. Although necessary to the plot, such as it was devised, Allison was only the foil to make the gem of Susan (Forlani) shine a bit brighter and justify some of the William's (Hopkins) motivation. And Tambor played a slightly more sedate dunderhead than the one he usually plays who is crucial to a turn in the plot and other than that, his character is flat and irrelevant.

Their almost incidental presence does not ruin the film, it is just part of the frame that helps shift the audiences attention to the process of falling in love.

Don't expect a "Story". See this film for the experience.

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