The name “Brad Pitt” has become an instantly recognisable brand of its own and has, in essence, become synonymous with everything that Hollywood represents: good looks, a glamorous lifestyle and excessive commercial successes. His emergence as an actor started with the role of a cowboy hitchhiker in 1991 film Thelma & Louise, a performance which instantly turned him into a Hollywood sex symbol. However, it is extremely unfair to relegate Pitt to the realm of highly successful, untalented actors just because his early breakthroughs were predicated on him playing “eye-candy” roles. His work demands the same amount of critical attention that media outlets often devote to his personal life.
Pitt had fostered an interest in cinema from an early age and had described film as “a portal into different worlds” and later cited Gary Oldman, Sean Penn and Mickey Rourke as some of his early acting influences. Since the end of the last century, Pitt has found himself using his star power in innovative ways to deliver mesmerizing performances in some brilliant films like Se7en, Fight Club, right up till the latest Tarantino film, Once Upon A Time In Hollywood.
On his 57th birthday, we take a look at the 10 greatest performances by Brad Pitt in recognition of his legacy as one of the Great American actors.
Brad Pitt’s 10 films ranked:
10. Thelma & Louise – Ridley Scott, 1991
Ridley Scott’s 1991 work is an offbeat film about a road journey that features Brad Pitt as J.D., a drifter with an unabashed cowboy spirit. This is where it all started for Pitt, Thelma & Louise established him as an actor of immense sex appeal, an unfortunate label that he has struggled to detach. He managed to command the screen in the scenes he was in and gave the world a glimpse of his potential.
Speaking of his experience, he said, “I’m really grateful to Ridley Scott and Geena, who gave me that shot, because that was the big league.”
“I had nothing to show for myself, except for my work as an extra, and they took a chance on me.”
9. Snatch – Guy Ritchie, 2000
Snatch is director Guy Ritchie’s follow-up to this 1998 hit Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels.
Brad Pitt is brilliant as Mickey O’Neil, an Irish traveller who is also a more-than competent boxer with a devilish side to his character. Pitt proved that he can handle comical roles with equal ease in this morbid black comedy.
Although he was apprehensive about doing an Irish accent on screen, it all came together in the final product. In an interview with Rolling Stone, he said, “I love Snatch. One of my all-time favourites” and it’s hard to argue.
8. The Tree of Life – Terrence Malick, 2011
When Terrence Malick made The Tree of Life, he had already established himself as a great director with classics like Badlands (1973), Days of Heaven (1978) and The Thin Red Line (1998).
Malick’s 2011 magnum opus is set in the 1950s and follows the story of a Midwestern family and the complicated relationship between Jack (played by Sean Penn) and his father (Brad Pitt). Pitt gracefully portrays the archetypal role of the 20th century American patriarch with all the problematic nuances attached to it.
Pitt spoke highly of the film in a 2012 interview with CBS news, saying: “It was a really interesting experience…Terry Malick was looking for those human moments.”
7. Inglorious Basterds – Quentin Tarantino, 2009
The first time that Brad Pitt and Quentin Tarantino worked together arrived in this 2009 WW-II romp in which Pitt played the character of Lt. Aldo Raine, a predator on the hunt for Nazi scalps.
Pitt strikes a wonderful balance between the hyper-masculine violent nature of a Tarantino character and the moral assurance of someone who knows he is doing the right thing.
The actor was delighted at the chance to work with Tarantino, calling the film “a gift” before adding: “A Tarantino character — we all want to get one of those. Because it’s so well-defined and, as the movie exists, it’s outrageous and irreverent.
“It’s full of amazing surprises and big, long scenes that somehow sustain themselves. So this is, selfishly for me, enticing.”
6. Ocean’s Eleven – Steven Soderbergh, 2001
Steven Soderbergh’s blockbuster heist film featured Brad Pitt as Robert “Rusty” Ryan”, the right-hand man of Danny Ocean who is played by Pitt’s close friend George Clooney. The sex-god like on-screen status of Brad Pitt is deconstructed in Ocean’s Eleven, a project in which he is shown eating fast food in multiple scenes and where there is no pressure on him to fulfil such expectations.
Charming and witty, this role allowed Brad Pitt to loosen up and truly enjoy his time on screen. Soderbergh correctly decided not to focus on Pitt’s immense appeal but to let its presence be muffled and natural.
5. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button – David Fincher, 2008
David Fincher’s 2008 film is an adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s story, where he masterfully depicts the heterotopic existence of Benjamin Button (played by Brad Pitt), a man who is born old and ages backwards. Pitt brilliantly captures the loneliness of someone who cannot grow old with his loved ones and becomes increasingly estranged from them.
The film had a profound effect on the actor and forced him to reflect on his own life. “I walked away realising that time is short,” Pitt said.
“I don’t know if I have a day or 10 days or 10 years or 40 years. Am I halfway or am I close to the end? I don’t know, so I have to make sure I don’t waste those moments in any kind of pettiness or bitterness or laziness, and that I surround myself with the people who are most important to me.
4. Moneyball – Bennett Miller, 2011
Based on true events, Moneyball is a film about challenging institutional authority and writing your own success story. Brad Pitt stars as Billy Beane, the general manager of a baseball team who goes against conventional baseball theory and builds his own team. Pitt is at the top of his game, effortlessly pulling off the cocky and nonchalant character of Billy Beane.
Pitt was attracted to the role because Billy Beane’s phenomenal drive and dedication. “I like him for his idiosyncrasies — that he can’t watch the games without getting too emotional, that he often has food down his shirt, that he tends to break a few chairs now and then,” Pitt reflected.
Adding: “These things make him human.”
3. The Assassination of Jesse James – Andrew Dominik, 2007
Although the 2007 film did not do well commercially, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford remains one of the most beautiful and important films of the 21st century. Brad Pitt brings Jesse James, an infamous outlaw, back to life. A sad and scary performance by Pitt, he makes the character of Jesse James a highly unpredictable one, capable of sudden violence. According to Pitt, it is his favourite of all the films he has worked in.
Critics have applauded Andrew Dominik’s film, stating that “This classic from 2007 is one of the last features Roger Deakins shot on film, ever since then he has made the full transition to digital film. It’s hard to pick just one image from Andrew Dominik’s masterpiece as it is one of the most beautifully photographed movies of the 21st century.”
2. Once Upon A Time In Hollywood – Quentin Tarantino, 2019
One of Tarantino’s finest works since Pulp Fiction, this 2019 feature film takes place in Lose Angeles in 1969 when the hippie movement was prevalent in Hollywood.
Brad Pitt plays the role of Cliff Booth, a loyal and dedicated employee to a washed-out actor, Rick Dalton who is played by Leonardo DiCaprio. It is an authentic and honest portrayal of a man who is struggling to make it in Hollywood but is also laid back when confronted by the absurdities of the film industry.
Pitt also enjoyed the chance of working with Tarantino again. He said, “Quentin Tarantino is the last purveyor of cool. If you land in one of his films, you know you’re in great hands. Quentin gives you these speeches, the kind that you wished you had said on the drive home, that you think of a day later.
“I felt the script was an evolution of Quentin’s voice.”
1. Fight Club – David Fincher, 1999
This is, unequivocally, the greatest role of Brad Pitt’s extensive career.
David Fincher’s 1999 film is a cinematic achievement of the highest order and the iconic role of Tyler Durden (played by Pitt), the schizophrenic alter ego of the narrator which is portrayed by Edward Norton, has a huge part to play in that.
Pitt’s character is a charismatic and strange presence on-screen who continuously mocks the societal restrains all of us are in and keeps unsettling us until we discard all our inhibitions and break free, until we are truly liberated.
Pitt knew that he was part of something special even though the film wasn’t well-received by critics at first. He said, “I’d had that feeling on Se7en. I had it on True Romance — that feeling when you know it’s right. So I know the feeling now. And it happened on Fight Club.”