I’ve never felt Brad Pitt has gotten a fair shake. I get it. He’s the pretty boy. The impossibly successful A-lister who always has an impossibly attractive female in tow. The guy who makes the big bucks by cashing in on his looks. And. So. On.
I’ve called bullshit on the popular notion of discrediting Brad Pitt from the onset. I think he’s a hell of an actor, and I’ve been a fan of his flamboyant comedy and restrained drama since as long as he’s been flexing his craft on screen. Here are 10 specific scenes that I personally feel make him great at what he does.
Here’s a funny preproduction story about True Romance. Mere days before Pitt was set to play Michael Rapaport’s aimless roommate, Floyd, he called director Tony Scott and said, “What if Floyd is a stoner?” Scott loved the idea. Pitt pushed it more: “But what if he never gets off the couch?”
Scott was sold, and the result is one of the most hilarious incarnations of a stoner ever caught on film. True Romance is filled with scene stealing performances, but none are more humorously pathetic than poor Floyd offering a bong hit to half a dozen lethal Italian gangsters. Bliss.
Once Pitt’s Det. Mills learns what’s in the box (“WHAT WAS IN THE BOOOOOX?!”), Pitt plays the scene expertly. He’s devastated, furious, ruined. In the span of about four seconds, his life as he knows it is completely changed. It’s the most gut wrenching moment of Pitt’s career. I simply cannot imagine any other actor playing it any other way.
When we first meet the grown Michael Sullivan, he’s years into his master plan of ruining the lives of the four men who ruined his. To silence the four guards who sexually and physically abused him and his friends in a juvenile home, Michael puts a plan in motion to literally get away with murder. There’s a great moment in the middle of his extended debrief of the details in which his old friend, Shakes (Jason Patric) asks Michael, “How long have you been working on this?”
Michael doesn’t even pretend to hear the question. He’s been working his whole life to fuck these men over. No explanation need.
Ocean’s Twelve (2004)
Brad Pitt is a cool cat, and the reunion scene Rusty Ryan has with his ex girlfriend (Catherine Zeta-Jones) is one of the coolest scenes of Pitt’s career. After secretly breaking into her apartment, Pitt and Zeta-Jones dive into an exquisitely paced give-and-take, in which he throws gems around like: “That’s a nice pull, by the way. Did you get that tingling sensation down your spine when you did it? Or is that none of my business?”
Yes, I love Ocean’s Twelve. Yes, I think it is by far the best of Soderbergh’s trilogy. But moving past that, the way Pitt plays this scene – confident but shy, cool but afraid – is simply priceless.
The best scene of Brad Pitt’s career culminates with him silently mouthing the words Thank You in the work of art that is Babel. I’m not going to mention more here, but just know that the summation of Pitt’s character arc in this film is something that never, not once, fails to move me. (You can read more about my thoughts on this scene here.)
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007)
The complexity the goes into the line, “Don’t that picture look dusty?” and the immediate subsequent act of walking that follows, marks my favorite scene from this underrated gem.
Jesse James knows. He’s ready and willing.
Burn After Reading (2008)
I’m using most of this post to highlight Pitt’s excellence in dramatic work, but make no mistake: this man is goddamn funny. Case in point: Chad Feldheimer from the Coen brothers’ overlooked Burn After Reading. In order to work, Chad is the type of role that an actor can only play one way, which is by going all in. The hair, the speech, the mannerisms – I find every little thing about Chad to be utterly hilarious.
Choosing a best scene is tough, but it’s hard to beat Chad crank calling Osborne Cox (John Malkovich) in an attempt to sell Cox his misplaced CIA files. Chad’s flamboyant gleefulness of the deception, only to be shattered by the situation's inevitable outcome, is the funniest thing Pitt has ever achieved on screen.
Inglourious Basterds (2009)
The scene in question includes, but is not limited to, the following lines of dialogue from Pitt:
The Tree of Life (2011)
There’s a scene late in The Tree of Life that perfectly summarizes the troubled family dynamic the film depicts. Pitt’s stern Mr. O’Brien has a quiet, humbling chat with his oldest son Jack, in which he relents that he may have been too tough on Jack and his brothers. Jack looks at him and says it’s fine because he’s, “More like you than her.”
Look at Pitt’s eyes when young Hunter McCracken utters that line. His face is equal appreciation, heartbreak, satisfaction and guilt. It’s one of the most subtle, beautiful, and fucking devastating moments of Pitt’s career.
Moneyball is a late bloomer of a film if there ever was one. I enjoyed it greatly upon first viewing, but didn’t think about it much after. Now, it gets better every time I watch it. It’s a very purposefully reserved film, and Pitt’s controlled performance is the best thing about it.
There are many aspects of his performance that I admire, but none strike me more then the film’s final, perfect moment in which Pitt’s Billy Beane listens to a demo track his daughter has put together for him. At its core, it’s nothing more then a father silently admiring his daughter. Dig deeper, and it says everything you need to know about his character. That is the movie.