With one of Hollywood’s most recognizable faces hitting the big screen twice this awards season with Quentin Tarantino’s ‘Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood’, and James Gray’s ‘Ad Astra’, It’s time to take a look at Brad Pitt’s most recognizable performances.
1) Jeffrey Goines, “12 Monkeys” (1995)
The role that landed him the first of three Oscar nominations. Released in the same year as another of Pitt’s finest performances, ‘Seven’, 1995 was arguably the year Pitt made the leap to ‘superstardom’. Acting opposite the great Bruce Willis in Terry Gillam’s Sci-fi thriller in which Willis’ character is sent back to the past to uncover a cure to a deadly virus that has ravaged the future, Pitt is dialed in at an 11 out of 10 as Jeffrey Goines, a mental patient at the facility in which Willis is locked up. Wide-eyed and delivering what feels like 1000 words a minute, Pitt bounces around the screen as the mysterious Jeffrey, and in his final confrontation with Willis, delivers the films best scene as he unveils his plan, toying with Willis like he is Batman to Pitt’s Joker.
2) Billy Beane, “Moneyball” (2011)
Playing the man that changed Baseball and some corners of Sport forever could be conceived as a tough ask, especially when the biopic you’re starring in is co-written by the world’s most fast-paced, dialogue heavy screen-writer in Aaron Sorkin. But not for Brad Pitt. Able to navigate what actors themselves call ‘Sorkinese’, Pitt was expertly calm, powerful, witty, and captivating on screen as former Oakland Athletics’ general manager Billy Beane. A man who using player statistics and mathematics built a team for near nothing that not only matched the longest winning streak in MLB history, but who’s team also competed with the mega rich Yankees and Red Sox. Pitt’s partnership on screen with Jonah Hill’s Peter Brand is a lynchpin of this story, and makes it one of the all-time great sporting movies, with Bennet Miller’s film garnering six Oscar nominations including Best Actor for Pitt.
3) Cliff Booth, “Once Upon a Time…In Hollywood” (2019)
Pitt’s latest role sees him share the screen with Leonardo DiCaprio for the first time, as stunt-double and gofer in all but name to DiCaprio’s has-been TV star Rick Dalton. As Cliff Booth, a man with an Icey-cool demeanor, a mysterious edge, and an ambiguity hanging over him whether or not he killed his wife, this role will surely see Pitt land a supporting actor nomination next January. Without spoiling too much, the film’s final half-hour shows glimpses from all pages of Pitt’s playbook. From the calm and powerful acting seen in ‘Moneyball’ and ‘The Big Short’, to the charisma oozing characters in ‘Fight Club’, ‘Burn After Reading’ and ‘Thelma and Louise’. A celebration of all things LA is Tarantino’s latest offering. But it also doubles as a nod to one of the greatest screen presences of the last 30 years.
4) Tyler Durden, “Fight Club” (1999)
The role that challenges ‘Seven’ for his most notable. Teaming up again with that film’s director, David Fincher, Pitt takes on the role of Tyler Durden, a maverick ‘soap-maker’, who along with Edward Norton’s nameless lead form an underground fight club. Pitt and Norton go head to head as they wrestle for control of first the club, and secondly the secret anti-organisational project Tyler has created. Off the wall, crazy, mad, you name it, Pitt brings the chaos in this cult classic.
5) David Mills, “Se7en” (1995)
Arguably Pitt’s most famous performance, and without question his most famous line. As rookie detective Mills, Pitt delivered a devastating blow in the film’s final moments. Having spent the film hell bent on catching a serial killer who hunts using the seven deadly sins, Pitt is lured into a puzzle like game with Kevin Spacey’s ‘John Doe’. Together with Morgan Freeman (Mills’ veteran partner) Pitt draws you into David Fincher’s Movie, making you live every missed opportunity to catch the sadistic killer. A performance which makes the film’s final act all the more like a giant punch to the gut. A must see for any fan of Pitt.
6) Mr. O’Brien, “The Tree of Life”
Terrence Malick's hypnotic masterpiece on family, memory and the origin of life has Pitt doing some of the best work of his career as a husband and father of three in 1950s Texas. A tough and intimidating father, Pitt’s miraculous performance resides on how his Mr. O’Brien mixes both tenderness and aggressiveness in his parenting. His actions may seem questionable, maybe even abusive at times, but you get the sense that he's also continuously trying to be a better man in the process. The performance is the most uncomfortable one to sit through in the Pitt cannon, but it’s also one of the very best.
7) Aldo Raine, “Inglorious Basterds” (2009)
Sticking with Tarantino, Pitt lead this 2009 alternative world war II drama. Playing Mississippi native Lt. Aldo Raine, or as he was known to the Nazi’s he hunted, ‘Aldo the Apache’. His turn as the ruthless, patriotic, and at times funny leader of the ‘Basterds’ (a group of Jewish-American Guerrilla Soldiers) was somewhat (and probably rightly so) overshadowed by the exhilarating Christoph Waltz as Lans Handa. However, he brings a charismatic charm to the all-American leader. Just don’t turn return to him with anything less than ‘a hundred Nazi scalps’.
8) Chad Feldheimer, “Burn After Reading” (2008)
One of Pitt’s lesser known roles amongst the masses. In the Coen brothers satirical take on the sale of CIA intelligence, Pitt plays Chad Feldheimer, a seemingly harmless, happy go lucky gym employee, who, along with Frances McDormand’s Linda Litzke happen upon a piece of CIA information and attempt to sell it. Pitt proves he has funny-bones in this classic Coen tale of deceit, mischief and at points outright buffoonery, with a highlight being his meeting with John Malcovich’s CIA agent, a clip I highly recommend for fans to seek out on Youtube. Or better yet, treat yourselves the underrated Coen classic that clocks in at a timely 90 minutes.
9) Jesse James, “The Assassination of Jesse James” (2007)
Still to this day probably a film not enough people have seen. Andrew Dominik’s tale of the final seven months in the life of Jesse James, brings with it, towering performances from Sam Rockwell, Casey Affleck and of course Pitt as the famous outlaw. There’s an ingenious withdrawal to his display as arguably histories most famous outlaw, as he comes to terms with his celebrity status, whilst growing mistrustful of all who surround him. The performance he gives includes one of his finest moments on screen, in the shape of James (Pitt) acting out the next attack his gang will carry out, as he holds a knife to the throat of Robert Ford (Affleck), the man who would eventually take James’ life from him. Pitt’s piercing laughter in that scene rings long in the ears of those who watch it.
10) Ben Rickert, “The Big Short” (2015)
One of quite a few supporting performances on the list in which Pitt steals the show. Adam McKay’s zany, slick, easily-accessible re-telling of the housing market collapse of 2007 was widely praised, with leads Christian Bale and Steve Carell taking much of the plaudits. Underappreciated however was Pitt. As Ben Rickert, advisor to John Magaro and Finn Wittrock’s, Charlie Geller and Jamie Shipley, Pitt operated as the overlooking conscious to the whole piece, dropping both men back in check, reminding both Jamie and Charlie, and the audience, that whilst the film is fun, millions of people suffered and continue to suffer.
11) Mickey O’Neil, “Snatch” (2000)
Guy Ritchie’s decision to cast Brad Pitt as a gypsy boxer with an incomprehensible Irish accent was a stroke of absolute genius casting. Even though you can never understand a damn thing he says, Pitt steals the show as Mickey O’Neil, the mama’s boy trailer trash gypsy that also happens to be a lethal boxer in the ring. We’ve seen a few Pitt' performances on this list which veered slightly towards comedy, well, Mickey O’Neil is another example of that fine line of comedy and drama that Pitt loves to play around with. You’re never quite sure what he says, but the fact that it looks like Pitt is having a ball with the roll makes the joy just as contagiously playful for the viewer.
12) Gerry Lane, “World War Z” (2013)
Not one that many would pick out when discussing the highest-tier of Pitt movies. However, although not the greatest film ever to hit the screen, Marc Forster’s adaptation of Max Brooks’ novel of the same name is elevated above itself by Pitt’s leading performance as Gerry Lane. A former United Nations employee tasked with trying to uncover a cure to the Zombie pandemic that is sweeping the globe. He takes the films dramatic weight on his shoulders as the lulls in the story are softened by his performance.