Brad Pitt is cursed. Cursed because of his beautiful features, his muscles, his nice golden hair. This is the argument made by Adrien Dénouette and Thibaut Sève in their documentary released on the channel Arte on November 11th. Through scenes taken from his filmography since the late 80s, the documentary dives into the sex symbol status to which the actor seems condemned. When he first arrived in Hollywood in the 80s, he had neither money nor training. Coming straight out from his native Missouri, he started a career in advertising, where he showed off his perfect body. As long as he didn’t hide his pectoral muscles or his abs of steel, he got supporting roles and eventually became an object of desire coveted by all the American screens and tabloids. He used to be on their front pages, even before being the lead actor of any film. And no matter what role he was asked to play, Brad Pitt would always end up undressed – either completely naked in Thelma & Louise (1991), just one cheek out in 12 Monkeys (1995), or with a wet, molded torso in Fight Club (1999) and Troy (2004) ...
For thirty years, he has been one of the most bankable actors in Hollywood, making his mark with roles that still stick with him, such as the young detective David Mills in Seven, the sultry couple he formed with his ex-wife Angelina Jolie in Mr. & Mrs. Smith (2005), or the master of bluffing in Ocean’s Eleven (2001) ... His career has never run out of steam, even when he put it on hold at the end of the 2000s to develop his production company, Plan B Entertainment. With his company, the actor has won Oscars that his roles had never brought him before, like with Steve McQueen’s film 12 Years a Slave in 2014. Until his last major role, offered by director Quentin Tarantino in Once Upon a Time... In Hollywood (2019), for which Brad Pitt has received an Oscar for his performance – at last. A decisive choice for his career, echoing those made twenty years earlier, and which contributed to both forging and debunking the myth of “the most desired man in the world”. Here are three of his best roles.
1. Tyler Durden in "Fight Club" (1999) : ruining the too perfect blond boy
Violence, sex, and coarse language... in Fight Club, the handsome blond actor who took the world by storm a year earlier in Meet Joe Black (1998) completely changes his register. In this film directed by David Fincher, Brad Pitt plays the character of Tyler Durden, an unstable and impulsive man, who organizes clandestine fights in which he participates. His angelic face is brutalized to the great displeasure of his fans, as the commercial failure in the United States suggests it. Today, the cult film has become a classic, introducing us to a new trashy Brad Pitt, far from his original image. It allowed the actor to push the irony even further as a gypsy in Guy Ritchie’s Snatch (2000), as a clueless trainer in the Cohen brothers’ Burn After Reading (2008), or as a talkative lieutenant in Quentin Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds (2009).
The actor displayed all his energy in the role of Tyler Durden. He took taekwondo and boxing lessons, and even had pieces of his teeth removed to better fit his character. The director has given the Hollywood Adonis an unprecedented burlesque and vulgar dimension that “makes a dent in his glamour in order to break the spell”, as the Arte documentary puts it. Although the myth of the too perfect blond guy has not really been debunked by Fight Club, the role has opened more possibilities for Brad Pitt in his next films.
2. Achilles in "Troy" (2004) : the point of no return
Bulging muscles, tight Spartan outfit, radiant blond locks... In Wolfgang Petersen’s film Troy, Brad Pitt plays everything he hates. He embodies the ancient hero Achilles in a blockbuster at the age of 40, just five years after Fight Club. The actor revealed in an interview with the New York Times in 2019 that he was forced by the studio to take the role after another film was cancelled. While he was trying to break away from his ultra-cartoonish sex symbol roles, he found himself headlining a commercial peplum, for which his impeccable figure is more remembered than his acting.
Brad Pitt was caught up in the same system as other actors of his stature, such as Johnny Depp or Tom Cruise, who signed multi-year contracts with major franchises. Yet, it was a path that the actor refused to take. Fifteen years later, he now admits that this role was a real turning point that defined the next ten years of his career. He decided to play his producer’s role more often, financing low-budget films, and refusing to commit to blockbusters.
3. Cliff Booth in, "Once Upon a Time… In Hollywood" (2019) : the apotheosis of a destiny?
In 2019, Brad Pitt is almost 60 years old, has played more than 55 roles, and has not lost an ounce of his charisma. The only “shadow” in the picture is that he still has no Oscar to reward his acting talents. Quentin Tarantino made up for that lack when he offered him the role of Cliff Booth, among a star-studded cast including Leonardo DiCaprio and Margot Robbie, in his film Once Upon a Time... In Hollywood (2019). In the Arte documentary, this role is presented as a “rebirth” for the actor, “that of a star who has not only accepted but embraced the burden of his glamourous side”.
In Tarantino’s film, he plays the role of a lonely stuntman with a difficult past, who fearlessly understudies great celebrities. His character is cynical, his lines are humorous, and his figure is perfect. Like Brad Pitt, the character doesn’t want to take himself too seriously and tries to distance himself from the fame and all the glitters. Considered as the climax of his career, his accurate performance enabled him to win his first Oscar as an actor.
Brad Pitt, la revanche d'un blond, by Adrien Dénouette and Thibaut Sève, 53 minutes, released on Arte.tv on November 11th, replay available until November 14th, 2022.