In the last three decades Brad Pitt has become a household name, but the notoriety hasn’t diminished the range and talent that comes with the pretty face. We have seen him be an unintelligible bare-knuckle brawler in Snatch to death incarnate in Meet Joe Black. A psychopath in Kalifornia to a soulful vampire in Interview with a Vampire.
His diversity of roles, and accumulation of box office successes and critically renowned performances makes him one of the most well rounded, respected actors of our time.
Heartthrob, philanthropist – William Bradley Pitt was born in Shawnee, Oklahoma on December 18th 1963. His family moved to Springfield Missouri not long after. He nearly graduated from the University of Missouri with a journalism degree focused in advertising, but he decided to move to LA weeks before graduation and seek an acting career instead.
He began with small television roles in shows like Another World and Growing Pains. After some uncredited film roles he starred in the television movie Too Young to Die.
With 79 acting credits (some voiceover, animated) and 46 producing, his success is not only warranted, but earned. He has also been involved in several charitable programs, including starting the Pitt-Jolie Foundation with his now ex, Angelina Jolie.
Pitts breakout role came in Ridley Scotts 1991 classic road film Thelma and Louise. He played J.D, the sexy thief who not only steals the women’s money, but also the scenes he is in, giving us an invite to the power of his charm.
The 1992 film (based on a semi-autobiographical novel of the same name) is a coming of age story of two brothers (the other being Craig Sheffer) in the early days of the Great Depression, and their differing life paths under the influence of their stern pastor father (Tom Skerritt). Pitt plays the fly-fishing journalist Paul, and the role provided us a peek at the versatility he was capable of. The characters charisma is offset by his self-destructive nature, and while not his best, it certainly turned heads.
In 1994 Brad Pitt got the leading role in Edward Zwick’s period piece Legends of The Fall. Cast alongside Anthony Hopkins (the two would later reunite for Meet Joe Black) he played Tristan, the middle and wild child.
Deep in the Montana wilderness (the landscapes are captured beautifully here) the story portrays the relationships of the three children (Aidan Quinn, Pitt and Henry Thomas), their father (Hopkins) and the object of all the son’s affections Julia Ormond. This tragic love story gave Pitt the opportunity he needed to both swoon and entice viewers.
The Fincher Connection
David Fincher is one of the most talented directors currently working, and one of my personal favorites. The two have worked together three times now, and with each movie we peeled back new layers of his adaptability.
Se7en, 1995, manages to bypass the buddy-cop persona one could ascertain from a quick plot description to become a creature of originality. I use the word creature because it’s a grimy, gripping beast of a film. Morgan Freeman and Brad Pitt make an unusual team, but luckily for the viewers it’s an inspired one. The two are investigating a series of crimes connected to the seven deadly sins. Our villain is John Doe played with an uncredited, but significantly hypnotic part by Kevin Spacey. Pitt is arrogant but determined, and this hothead introduced us to the complexity of roles he could embody. His emotional unraveling in the final sequence cemented that he had arrived.
In 1999 the two forces rejoined to adapt Chuck Palahniuk’s book Fight Club to the big screen. Tyler Durden is the controversial, fearless, and intimidating projection of what the unhappy Edward Norton desires to be. The “two” begin an underground fighting club to alleviate stress, but it soon grows out of control. Helena Bonham Carter is phenomenal as the incorrigible Marla Singer. The movie is an indelible hotbox of memorable dialogue. It became a cult classic in large because of Mr. Durden and the high intensity, unencumbered performance.
In 2008, scoring his first Best Actor Oscar nomination, Brad Pitt was the titular character in Fincher’s The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. This fantastical story, about a man who ages backwards, was grounded by the strength and passion of Pitt’s performance. The film works because of its unique embodiment of the human condition. It’s a tale of adventure, love and hardships. Though a brief part, the always incredible Tilda Swinton is a valued addition.
Through outstanding special effects, and an effortless romance with Cate Blanchett, the tale has become a timeless wonder.
Brad Pitt has had three Oscar nominations for acting (two lead nominations and one supporting), and three for producing. His production company Plan B has shown the presence of his skill on both ends of the process. While more significantly involved as a producer, he also had an acting part in the autobiographical film 12 Years A Slave. Steve McQueen‘s direction gave a riveting and emotional story of one man’s journey from freedom to slavery, and back again. This is his first and only Oscar win, when the film rightfully nabbed the 2014 Best Picture award.
Terry Gilliams 1995 eccentric, ambitious Twelve Monkeys follows Bruce Willis’ wounded but rapt time traveler. Its jolts of energy offer an imaginative story and allows Pitt a colorful palette to sink his teeth into.
The role, which earned him a supporting actor Oscar nomination (his first in any category), is introduced to us in the belly of a mental hospital. While the screen time is limited, his character Jeffrey has significance to the story. He is portrayed with a jittery physicality, and a rambling tongue that makes it so you can’t quite decide if he’s a lunatic, or a genius.
His second nomination for Best Actor came from Bennett Miller‘s 2011 Moneyball. His portrayal of real life baseball general manager Billy Keane provided the opportunity to show his chops once again. When his team -The Oakland A’s- suffers from consistent losses they use a computer algorithm created by Jonah Hill to give them an advantage. It’s a feel-good story surrounding a determined character, that’s humbled by Brad Pitt’s vulnerability.
Drama, Crime, Comedy? All of the above.
Pitt has played in a cache of genres, and in each he has given complete dedication. While his looks and charm are the first things we are hit with, this is a man with a flair for wit and style.
Jesse James, the historical western character is a hero to some, outlaw to many. In Andrew Dominik’s 2007 The Assassination of Jesse James he plays James tormented, intimidating and unstable, but by the films end it seems the coward Robert Ford (Casey Affleck) is the real villain. The film gives us an invite into their gang, and this family of misfits and thieves. As we trek to the inevitable end, a palpable doom can be felt through all the performances. Pitts entrancing, stern quality makes it difficult to not watch his every subtly here with admiration. It’s one of his finest.
Brad Pitt reprises his role as the gregarious Rusty three times in Steven Soderbergh’s 2001 remake of Ocean’s Eleven, and the subsequent Oceans Twelve and Thirteen. The film works as a comedy, a heist thriller and a romance, packing an ensemble cast including George Clooney and Matt Damon. The story centers around the newly released Danny who can’t quite stay out of trouble, as they plan and execute an elaborate casino robbery.
Rusty, the constantly eating, effortlessly cool card shark and Clooney’s Danny Ocean share a genuine chemistry. Their easy repartee, and the comfort of the cast in its entirety makes the movie an entertaining ride.
Arguably one of Quentin Tarantino’s best, 2009’s Inglourious Basterds takes a different, yet satisfying turn on the events of World War II. There are a lot of important and moving character portrayals here, but Brad Pitt’s dry, comedic Aldo Raine brings levity amidst the horrific subject matter. Even when he’s demanding Nazi scalps, or engaging in a war of words with Christoph Waltz (who won an Oscar for his role), he’s demanding your attention. At ease.
It’s important to also note his small, but entirely memorable role in True Romance written by Tarantino, directed by the late Tony Scott. As the stoner roommate of Michael Rappaport who is completely and hilariously unaware of the danger of his surroundings, we’re teased at the possibility that he’s a comedy star in the making.
His part in the Coen Brothers 2008 effort Burn After Reading has him playing a moronic gym employee who stumbles across the memoirs of a former CIA analyst (John Malkovich). The plan for extortion that ensues is ludicrous but hilarious, and in usual Coen form Burn After Reading is another crime story gone wrong. Frances McDormand and George Clooney are equally stimulating and darkly hysterical. In almost every way the movie resembles some kind of joke, but we’re laughing with it, not at it.
Impossible to ignore and unlikely to forget
Even when Brad Pitt is in a movie that fails he’s still a force to be reckoned with and a magnet for our eyes. It’s worth noting that there is such an extensive list of incredible films to mention that it’s tough to cover them all.
In recent years he’s had other key performances. He’s the captain of a tank of soldiers in David Ayer’s WWII epic Fury, and he leads a talented cast in a bloodied, taut battle that enthralls you to the end. In Marc Forster’s World War Z, Brad Pitt is a determined UN employee and father, trying to make sense of extremely horrendous circumstances. And yes, I’m referring to zombies.
In the crime thriller Killing Them Softly (he reteamed with director Andrew Dominik) he’s an enforcer for the mob, and his primitive, gritty character leaves his mark. He also plays a financial wiz in the star-packed The Big Short. While his screen time isn’t substantial in Adam McKay‘s film his scenes have an impact.
One of his most heart-wrenching performances to date came in Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life. He’s a strict father that can’t quite decide how to feel about the ones he loves, and the life that he has come to resent.
Conclusion: Brad Pitt
His success hasn’t had a limit in effect on his choice for roles. Brad Pitt will take a supporting role with just as much gusto as a lead. He’s fearless and inventive. With his innate ability to summon and entrance the audience, a film with Pitt becomes a personal experience. There is no limit to that sort of gift, and I believe the best is still yet to come.
What do you think? What are your favorites of his films?