Meet Joe Black (1998)
William Parrish (Sir Anthony Hopkins), media tycoon, loving father, and still a human being, is about to celebrate his 65th birthday. One morning, he is contacted by the inevitable, by hallucination, as he thinks. Later, Death enters his home and his life, personified in a man’s body: Joe Black (Brad Pitt) has arrived. His intention was to take William with him, but accidentally, Joe’s former host and William’s beautiful daughter Susan (Claire Forlani) have already met. Joe begins to develop a certain interest in life on Earth, as well as in Susan, who has no clue with whom she’s flirting.
Meet Joe Black has some flaws that keep it from being a truly great film, but those who classify it as a disaster could not be further from the truth. The mere fact that Anthony Hopkins (The Father) and Brad Pitt (Snatch) reunite after their stellar work in Legends of the Fall is a worthwhile starting point. Anthony Hopkins has rarely delivered a bad performance (perhaps a paycheck performance, but even those are usually interesting), and he does a nice job of giving this movie an aura of respectability from which all other aspects radiate out. William is presented with a quiet desperation as he realizes he is reaching the end of the road, and Hopkins creates moments of great heartbreak. Brad Pitt is wonderfully reserved in a role which could be a bit too cloying if taken in the wrong direction. He is believable as a manifestation of Death that has an almost childlike innocence when it comes to the real world. His relationship with Susan (Claire Forlani, Mallrats) suitably sweeps you up in its romance even as it presents as untenable in the long run for obvious reasons.
The easiest swipe to take at this film is its length; at three hours in length you really start to feel the strain of the narrative in the midsection of the film. There was a television version that cut the film down to two hours, but that is swinging the pendulum too much in the other direction. As directed by Martin Brest (Midnight Run), the film is designed to have a deliberate, slower pace which allows the characters to really have moments to connect. The romance between Joe and Susan would not work nearly as well as it does if there was not time put in to build up the dynamic. Likewise, William and Joe have a complex dynamic that must be earned over the runtime. The film would probably find its sweet spot around 150 minutes. On a technical level, this film is stunning; the cinematography by Emmanuel Lubezki is awe-inspiring, and the score from Thomas Newman is among his best, which is saying something. This movie is pure sentiment, and those who do not open their heart to such a journey will find this a slog. If you do find yourself on the film’s wavelength, you will be greeted by something quite touching.
Peter Colt, an English tennis player in his thirties whose ranking slipped from 11th to 119th in the world, considers he never really had to fight for anything as his wealthy but all but close family easily put him through studies and allowed him to pursue his tennis ambitions, bravely exchanges jokes with his German sparring partner Dieter Prohl, in a similar position, but feels it’s about time to admit he’s getting too old to compete with fitter coming men (or boys) and intends, after a last Wimbledon, to take a job with the prestigious tennis club instead. Just then, by accident, he bumps into Lizzie Bradbury, the American rising star of female tennis, falls in love with her and finds her interest in him changes his entire perception, even gives him the strength to win again. But where will it lead them, especially when her overprotective father-manager Dennis Bradbury proves determined to nip their relationship in the bud, believing it detrimental to her career?
Wimbledon is a film that does not stray far away from either its romantic-comedy or sports-film roots, but it works within those typical dynamics so well that it is hard to be mad at it. As a sports film, it handles the nuances of becoming an aging athlete with a deft touch. Peter (Paul Bettany, WandaVision) is a character who is never portrayed as cartoonish or unbelievable; he is just a man who has reached the natural end of his career, perhaps sped up ever so slightly due to his general attitude towards the game. You feel that at his core he is someone worth rooting for, and when Lizzie (Kirsten Dunst, Spider-Man) enters his life you get to witness more of that on the surface. Lizzie is a character who is given a bit more depth and believability than what Cameron Crowe gave to Dunst in Elizabethtown. The decisions she has to make between romance and glory is one of the struggles athletes have to face in one way or another. You can pretty well guess where the film is going to end up, but you become invested enough in the characters that you do not mind the obvious.
The most obvious appeal to this film is the completely charming performances from Paul Bettany and Kirsten Dunst. While the story is a lighter affair, the pair do not treat the material as trivial. The script provides a solid foundation from which to grow their characters, but the palpable chemistry between these two elevates the story to a higher level of quality. Bettany is forced to awkwardly verbalize some of the emotions Peter is feeling at points, but there are more moments than you would expect from a studio film where he gets to do some actual “acting” by emoting with his face rather than words. Dunst is not given as meaty of a role as Bettany, but as usual she is an essential spark that goes towards making this story work. The script is not as trite as many of its contemporaries with dialogue that feels naturally conversational rather than manufactured and stilted. There is also a care given to developing the more fringe characters that often gets overlooked for the more obvious moments. Wimbledon is not an all-time great, but it has enough zip in its sports moments and charm in its romance to keep you decently entertained.
These two titles are included on a single Blu-Ray disc courtesy of Mill Creek Entertainment with older 1080p masters that result in a decent enough transfer. These films were previously released separately by Universal, and by only reading about those discs it appears these transfers are pretty close to what those discs offered. The basic masters are in decent but not reference-worthy shape which keeps either of these films from dazzling on the format. Compression artifacts are a small but not deal-breaking issue despite the films sharing a disc and Meet Joe Black being especially lengthy. The transfer provides a fine amount of natural film grain for Wimbledon, but Meet Joe Black looks like some of it has been scrubbed away. These transfers present with only the occasional specks of damage or other subtle digital anomalies such as edge enhancement. The colors feel appropriately vibrant which keeps the films popping in a visually exciting way. Skin tones look natural, and the presentation offers up some fairly solid black levels. The disc shows off some strong details in the production design in most instances, but there are moments of softness present in some shots. Mill Creek Entertainment has provided good transfers for those who are looking for a value-packaged offering.
This new Blu-Ray set comes with a lossless DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio mix for both films that are stronger than the video presentation in terms of quality. The dialogue holds up very well, coming though clearly without being stepped on by the score or sound effects. The environmental effects are subtle but appreciated in the presentation. These tracks do not exhibit major instances of age related wear and tear or distortion. The surround channels help the film establish a wondrous, lovely atmosphere, which complements the general tone of the films. These are not the most dynamic tracks you have ever heard, but they bring each film to life in an accurate manner. Optional English subtitles are provided on this disc.
There are no special features included on this disc.
Meet Joe Black and Wimbledon are two films that will not go down as all-time greats, but are good enough to make for a pleasant viewing experience. Meet Joe Black will leave you more with a deep longing and joyous heartache thanks to the effective script and fine performances from Hopkins and Pitt. Wimbledon does not feel as significant as its companion, but the chemistry between Dunst and Bettany keeps this one at a better-than-average romantic comedy. Mill Creek Entertainment has released a Blu-Ray featuring a passable A/V presentation at a budget-friendly price. Those looking to own these films should find this a good option in the end.
Meet Joe Black/Wimbledon will be available to purchase on Blu-Ray on September 21, 2021.
Note: Images presented in this review are not reflective of the image quality of the Blu-Ray.
Disclaimer: Mill Creek Entertainment has supplied a copy of this disc free of charge for review purposes. All opinions in this review are the honest reactions of the author.
Dillon is most comfortable sitting around in a theatre all day watching both big budget and independent movies.