Top Five Brad Pitt Performances


Editor’s Notes: World War Z opens wide tomorrow, June 21st.

Only when I sat down to try and rate the five best performances of Brad Pitt’s career did I realize how truly magnificent Pitt has been as an actor.  Perhaps it is his larger-than-life celebrity, his matinee-idol looks, his tabloid marriages, or his stinkers along the way, the greatness of Brad Pitt as a pure actor feels overlooked when compared to his peers.  This list grew daunting as I scanned his career and certain films that have been out of consciousness for years resurfaced for me.  This list, of course, is not everyone’s list.  But all things considered, these were the performances from Pitt that not only show off his greatest acting moments, but display the diversity of an actor many may not necessarily recognize as diverse.

5) Fight Club – This is Pitt at his most maniacal, his most amusing, and an unforgettable role in the pop culture society of the late nineties.  The only drawback as Pitt’s interpretation of Tyler Durden, the anarchist alter-ego of Edward Norton’s milquetoast middle-classer, is the way the film feels dated.  Fight Club fits in a certain time and doesn’t quite move beyond an era before social media and internet saturation among society.  Nevertheless, Pitt’s gonzo turn as Durden delivers laughs and thrills in equal measure.

4) Se7en – While Se7en is widely regarded as a modern classic, and one of the finest serial-killer suspense films of all time, Pitt’s role in the story is overlooked and, sometimes, mocked because of his third act meltdown in the desert.  But David Mills is the heart of Se7en.  Pitt’s determined and steadfast detective adds tension to already tense moments, and his frustrations pour over into the audience as we fight along with him for justice.  Slightly disheveled but always honest and true at heart, Pitt’s performance is a perfect balancing act and a much deeper and soulful characterization that what was necessary.


3) 12 Monkeys – Pitt’s first Oscar nomination back in 1995 was here, in Terry Gilliam’s quirky sci-fi thriller 12 Monkeys.  As Jeffrey Goines, the paranoid schizophrenic with a lazy eye who just so happens to lead a revolution which brings about the downfall of modern society, Pitt’s manic energy counteracts the subdued and appropriately weary performance from Bruce Willis and the beaten down time traveler.  The tics and twitches from Pitt as Goines all hit the right notes, and the performance steals the show from Willis, who was a much bigger star 18 years ago.

2) Moneyball – At first glance, Pitt’s performance as Billy Beane, the desperate General Manager of the Oakland Athletics who tries a new way of building a team, may appear bland and flat.  But if you look closer, you see nuances and quiet moments in each and every scene which draw us into the character and his angst.  Regardless of how accurate his interpretation of the real Beane may be (that doesn’t matter when all is said and done), Pitt’s quiet boiling anger and frustration just beneath the surface resonates to anyone looking for a subtly brilliant performance and a surprisingly emotional take on a “baseball” man in a “sports” film.

1) The Assassination of Jesse James by The Coward Robert Ford – There are very few Westerns out there someone could consider a “slow burn” type film.  Jesse James is the very definition of slow burn, a dreamlike story that builds upon the mythos of its legendary outlaw, played by Pitt, and the weasel who eventually gunned him down.  Casey Affleck nabbed the nomination here, and Pitt was once again overlooked in a brilliant performance.  Pitt understands both the nature of celebrity and the alienation of such a life, and puts his own life into the life of the most famous of all outlaws.  He also balances the love and hate living inside the James character, a family man who also made a living as a thief and murderer.

HONORABLE MENTIONS include a surprising number of ensemble pictures like Ocean’s Eleven, Babel, Sleepers, and Inglourious Basterds, as well as his psycho Early in Kalifornia and his stoner hero Floyd in True Romance.  A truly diverse career indeed.

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Ever since I was a child I have had an obscene obsession with film. After seeing Superman II as a five-year old, I have made it my mission to absorb as many films in as many genres from as many moments in time as I can. And over the years, there are films which have continued to shape my cinematic consciousness. I love discussing film, and I hope you enjoy discussing it along with me. You can read my work on as well.

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