William Parish (Anthony Hopkins) is a multimillionaire who has run a successful empire for the past forty years in New York. But, after his wife passes away, he feels empty and becomes convinced that Death is now after him too. He hears strange voices in his head, mimicking his own words, but they are phony and ridicule him in every possible manner. William's eldest and somewhat meddlesome daughter, Allison (Marcia Gay Harden), is planning her father's 65th birthday party.
Her sister Susan (Claire Forlani), an attractive young doctor, is involved with one of Bill's board members, Drew (Jake Weber). Her father disapproves of the relationship and suggests she look for someone more suited to her character. Early in the morning she meets a handsome and cheery stranger (Brad Pitt) in a café, but fails to learn his name before they leave. The young man is struck and killed by a car a few minutes later.
Death (Brad Pitt) appears to Bill in his home. Bill finally realizes that the young man is the personification of death. But death wants a holiday from his taxing, eternal responsibility of taking the souls of the dead to the after life. He chooses William to be his guide strikes a deal with Bill: as long as Bill shows him around the world of mortals, Bill will get to live a little longer. Temporarily doubting his own sanity, he finally agrees. He is introduced to William's family at a dinner at his house, when Susan arrives a few minutes late. She immediately recognizes the young man she met earlier that day, but the young man as Death is unfamiliar with the practices of mortal men and does not remember their original meeting. He acts awkwardly around her and she is confused and upset by his sudden odd behavior, very unlike his actions earlier that day.
When the dinner guests ask Bill for the name of his "old friend", Bill hesitatingly introduces him as "Joe Black". The family is puzzled by the sudden appearance of an old friend of their father's that they have...