With an all-star cast including Brad Pitt, Anthony Hopkins, and Claire Forlani, Meet Joe Black is a movie about death and the value of life. The film is approximately three hours and fifteen minutes long, is fairly slow at times, but has an excellent plot. Filming is done in the big business hub of New York City where Anthony Hopkins plays a character named Bill Parrish who is a billion-dollar CEO of a news company.
The story begins in Bill Parrish’s lavish New York City apartment, where he wakes up at night with pain in his chest and arm. He goes to the restroom where he splashes water on his face and wonders what is happening, meanwhile hearing a voice that simply says, “Yes.” Bill does not recognize that he may be having heart problems and continues with his daily life as chairman of the board at his news corporation.
Next, we see Bill’s two daughters enter the picture. Susan, Bill’s favored daughter, stops by for breakfast before leaving for the hospital where she is a resident in internal medicine. Bill’s other daughter, Allison, does not appear to have a job but stays busy planning Bill’s sixtieth birthday party on Bill’s estate. She is planning an extraordinary party including flaming archers, large band ensembles, well-known vocalists, and politicians of all types. Bill makes it clear that he could care less about the party and several times in the movie makes Allison upset about his lack of interest.
On Susan’s way to work, she stops by a coffee shop near the hospital where she runs into a nameless young man played by Brad Pitt. The young man strikes up a conversation with Susan since he is new in the city, and they end up having coffee together and telling one another how they like each other. They regretfully walk away and do not get each other’s contact information. While the young man is crossing a busy intersection on his way to work, he turns around while thinking about Susan and is killed when he is struck by two cars. This part of the movie is extremely well-done and is certain to take the viewer by surprise.
Meanwhile, Bill is planning on selling his company to a media mogul. He is uncomfortable with the idea of selling his life’s work to a man whose intentions are unclear, and he becomes even more uncomfortable when he realizes that he is dying. While at his office the next day, the voice he hears causes him to drop to his knees and clutch his chest while sweating, at the mercy of the voice. The voice tells him that the “yes” he has been hearing is the answer to Bill’s question, “Am I dying?”
That same night, Bill Parrish, his two daughters, Allison’s husband Quince, and Susan’s boyfriend Drew meet for dinner at Bill’s home. Drew is Bill’s right hand man and it is believed that when Bill is gone one day, Drew will be taking over Parrish Communications. Dinner is just getting started when Bill hears the voice again, saying that he is at the front door and wants to be let in. Bill’s maid lets the man behind the voice into Bill’s home and meets Bill in his library. This part of the movie is full of tension and awkwardness, and the viewer realizes that as powerful as Bill Parrish is in the real world, there is still an ultimate power ruling his life.
Parrish talks to the voice, which is standing behind a bookcase in his large library, and the voice tells him to quiet down and listen to what he has to say. Eventually, the voice reveals himself as the young man that Susan liked from the coffee shop, but with a completely different personality. It is not completely obvious at this point, but “Death” has taken over the body of the young man from the coffee shop in order to enter Bill Parrish’s life. Parrish is in fact having heart problems and is set to die in the near future, and “Death” has taken the young man’s body so he can learn about life from a man who lives life to the fullest. “Death” wants to take a vacation from helping people die and wants to see what life is like from one of the best humans alive.
Bill Parrish asks what they should do about “Death” being in his life, and the young man says that he will be staying at Bill’s home, eating dinner with his family, and going to work with him every day. Basically, he wants to do everything Bill does so he can see how an exceptional human lives. It becomes obvious at dinner that the young man does not understand how humans live as he is overwhelmed by the maids bringing him food and by the comments Parrish’s family makes to him. Bill must introduce the young, nameless man to his family, and comes up with a name of Joe Black, a fitting name for “Death”.
When Susan arrives at dinner and realizes that the young man from the coffee shop has returned to her life, she is blown away, and so is her boyfriend, Drew. Joe Black realizes that she knew the young man from the coffee shop who is now dead, and that he is not the same person she was hoping for. She becomes frustrated and does not understand why he is acting differently, but Joe manages to conceal his true identity. Drew makes the comment that he does not like how Susan and Joe look at each other and breaks off his relationship with Susan. Joe tells Susan that he does not like how Drew talked to her in a rude way, and the two end up kissing in Bill’s entry room.
At this point, Bill realizes that Susan is falling for Joe Black and gives a warning to his daughter that Joe is not who she thinks he is. Susan listens but does not seem to care, as she makes love to Joe several days later near Bill’s indoor swimming pool. Not only does Bill have major concerns about his daughter falling in love with Death, but now he has retracted his willingness to sell his company. He tells his board of directors, with Joe by his side, that his company is not for sale. Parrish does not give any concrete reasons for his decision and does not leave it open for discussion. Drew, is extremely suspicious of Joe at this point, and Joe and Drew start an unpleasant relationship with each other. Drew does not know that Joe is an all-knowing being and his wit will never match up to Joe’s personality and knowledge of everything in the world.
Drew becomes so suspicious of Bill Parrish and his reliance on Joe that he holds a secret meeting with the board of directors. Allison’s husband, Quince, who is also on the board, reveals that Bill has left some of his decision making up to Joe since there is so much on his mind. Knowing that Bill is letting a stranger make decisions for him, the board votes to give Bill an astounding amount of money to resign after his sixtieth birthday party. Bill has no choice in the matter and leaves the boardroom distraught and completely saddened.
The story now focuses on Bill’s lavish birthday party. All of his closest friends are there in their tuxedos and gowns and spirits are very high. However, Bill has had an argument with Joe and now knows that his life will end after the party. The argument was about Joe falling in love with Susan. Bill says that Joe is an awful attempt at being a person and does not want Joe to bring Susan with them to the dark side. Bill says that if Joe has a heart and is actually a decent person, Joe will go and reveal to Susan who he really is and see what she thinks. Joe walk out of Bill’s office where we assume Bill is finishing up his will and testament, and goes straight for Susan. She is scared by what Joe reveals to her and Joe begins to see that he has been selfish and Susan should stay alive.
The last few hours of Bill’s life are sad yet well-spent. He is forced on stage at his own party to make a speech and tells his crowd that he has a special memory with everyone there. The speech is short and very melancholy since Bill is too preoccupied to deliver a moving speech. After the speech he kisses Allison and Susan and returns to his home office. He asks his son-in-law, Quince, to invite Drew over for a last-minute talk. Drew is flattered by the invitation, but when he arrives to the office, he sees Bill and Joe and knows that he has entered a bad situation. Bill curses at him and tells Drew that he knows how Drew was planning a secret partnership with the man buying Bill’s company. Drew was going to break up Bill’s company piece-by-piece and ruin his life’s work in order to make himself and the board of directors truly rich. Bill gives Drew the option of resigning and never showing his face again, or hiring lawyers and forcing Drew to go to prison. Drew wisely decides to resign and begins to wonder how Bill and Joe knew so much about his immoral plans.
The last part of the movie takes the viewer through every emotion. First, Joe tells Drew that he is from the IRS and had a bad feeling that Drew was striking up a bad business deal. Through research, Joe says that he figured out Drew’s plans, which is why Drew decided to resign and avoid prison. He realized that the battle of wit and intelligence between himself and Joe was over, and Drew had been defeated badly by an IRS agent. With Bill’s company safe and back in the board of directors’ hands, he feels comfortable enough to return to the party and say his final goodbyes.
Joe says goodbye to Susan and tells her that he will always love her. Susan and Joe both become very emotional as Joe walks away. Bill kisses Allison and then finds Susan and asks her for a dance. They have a beautiful time together in Bill’s last moments, and Bill tells her that no matter what happens, not to worry. Susan seems to understand that her father may be dying and starts to cry even more. She leaves to watch the fireworks spectacle and Bill leaves to catch his breath.
Bill Parrish climbs a bridge and a grassy hill to meet Joe and get the process of dying underway. Bill has said goodbye to the two most important people in his life, Allison and Susan, and can now die in peace. Bill tells Joe that he admires how Susan showed a kind of love toward Joe that Bill had always dreamed of. He saw that Susan was truly in love and happy and that made Bill happy. Joe tells Bill that he admires Bill as a person and is thankful for his time on Earth. They walk casually over the hill into darkness where Bill dies, but Joe does not. Susan sees the two most important men in her life walk over the hill and starts up the hill herself. She sees Joe come back up the hill and start walking towards her. Susan is not sure what is going on, but when Joe approaches her, she see that the young man from the coffee shop is back. Joe ended up taking Bill’s life, but he also gave life back to the young man’s body who he took in the beginning of the film. To show that he is reasonable and actually has a good heart, Joe feels that making Susan happy for the rest of her life would be a fair trade off for taking Bill’s life. The movie ends with Susan and the man from the coffee shop walking hand-in-hand toward the fireworks which are bursting dramatically over Parrish’s estate.
The plot of this movie is incredibly in-depth and interesting. The idea that “Death” comes to Earth to experience life in a young man’s body is truly unique. Martin Brest does a fantastic job directing this high-budget movie with his all-star cast. The movie will make you laugh with Joe’s innocent antics, cry at the end when everyone must say goodbye as Bill heads toward his death, and even become angry at Drew for attempting to destroy Bill’s billion-dollar corporation. This move is a must-see, and due to the complexity of the story and the emotional plot, it is rated a 5 out of 5.