STARRING Brad Pitt, Anthony Hopkins, Claire Forlani, Marcia Gay Harden, Jeffrey Tambor, Jake Weber
DIRECTED BY Martin Brest
It’s amazing what a little r&r can do for the Grim Reaper. In this darkish romantic drama, inspired by the 1934 Fredric March classic Death Takes a Holiday, Death assumes the handsome visage of a recently killed young man (Pitt) so he can figure out why people fear him. In his newly warmed-over state, Mr. Reaper temporarily leaves behind the nasty task of taking people’s lives and starts living it up himself, quickly realizing the appeal of making good money, experiencing new sensations (ah, peanut butter!), and encountering gorgeous women — namely, Forlani’s character, the daughter of a powerful businessman (Hopkins).
Of course, Pitt isn’t exactly the face of death most people envision. That’s intentional. ”Our big challenge in this,” says Brest (Scent of a Woman), ”was having a character called Death without being gruesome or heavy-handed or clichéd. And basically, I thought Brad had that slightly otherworldly presence we needed.”
Brest’s multi-take modus operandi stretched the shooting schedule out to six months. Sounds pretty somber. But Hopkins insists that the shoot was ”lighthearted and unpredictable.” And Forlani notes that the longer they worked, the nuttier everyone became. ”After about six months into it,” she says, ”I’d stand there in the corner of the set and realize everybody was acting like a freak. Brad would do these contemporary dance moves, then Tony would play the piano, then Brad would join him, singing some obscure musical tunes from the 1940s. And I’d be off on the side wondering, Where did everyone go?”
The movie’s themes sparked some bizarre conversations, too. ”There was much talk of death on set,” says Hopkins. ”How we would like to die, things like that. I don’t normally contemplate death too much. When you’re younger, you don’t want to face things like that. But now that I’m older, I feel very comfortable with it. Every day’s a bonus, and I’m just glad to be aboveground.” (Nov. 13)
THE LOWDOWN Please. If Death really looked like Brad Pitt, none of us would be aboveground.