Total Recall: Brad Pitt's Best Movies
We count down the best-reviewed work of the Killing Them Softly star.
Today he's one of the most bankable movie stars in Hollywood, and one of the few actors audiences will pay to see no matter what sort of role he's playing -- whether it's action, drama, or comedy the script calls for, having Brad Pitt's name above the title is about as close as anyone can come to a guarantee for a hit film. Not so long ago, however, Pitt was just another good-looking dude with enough gumption to work his way into a steady stream of TV shows and bit parts in movies. He's come a long way, for sure, and to celebrate his latest starring role -- in Andrew Dominik's Killing Them Softly, opening this weekend -- we decided the time was right for yet another Brad Pitt edition of Total Recall!
10. Fight Club
He started the 1990s on a hot streak, but by the end of the decade, Pitt was suffering through a bit of a slump, appearing in a string of critical dogs (Seven Years in Tibet, The Devil's Own, Meet Joe Black) whose box office tallies reflected their disappointing reviews. But just when the naysayers were ready to write him off as an expensive hair model who couldn't break a movie, Pitt rebounded with Fight Club, a reunion with Seven director David Fincher that paired Pitt with Edward Norton in an adaptation of Chuck Palahniuk's hit novel. Though some critics found the film's overpowering violence and homoerotic overtones repugnant (New York Magazine's Peter Rainer, for one, dismissed it as "the squall of a whiny and essentially white-male generation that feels ruined by the privileges of women and a booming economy"), most writers responded to Fight Club's social criticism and thought-provoking themes. In the words of ReelViews' James Berardinelli, it's "a memorable and superior motion picture - a rare movie that does not abandon insight in its quest to jolt the viewer."
Critics have a reputation for turning up their noses at escapist fare, but when it's done right, most scribes have no problem saying so -- as they did in 2001, with the Certified Fresh Ocean's Eleven. A loose remake of the 1960 Rat Pack feature of the same name, Eleven blended the original with the nod-and-a-wink light touch of The Sting, giving its high-wattage cast free rein to essentially goof off for 116 minutes -- and audiences, who hadn't been treated to a real all-star caper since 1984's woeful Cannonball Run II, turned out in droves. Pitt's turn as the food-obsessed Rusty Ryan gave him an opportunity to flash the pearly whites and old-fashioned Hollywood cool that he'd played down in recent projects such as Seven Years in Tibet or Fight Club, and helped charm critics like Rolling Stone's Peter Travers, who wrote, "forget Oscar, Ocean's Eleven is the coolest damned thing around."
An adaptation of Norman Maclean's semi-autobiographical book of the same name, A River Runs Through It arrived on screens with a pretty stellar pedigree -- director Robert Redford had won an Academy Award for his first effort, 1980's Ordinary People, cinematographer Philippe Rousselot (who would win his own Oscar for River) was highly regarded for his work in French cinema, and musician Mark Isham brought his Grammy-winning talents to the Oscar-nominated score. The result, as you might imagine, was a visually sumptuous film -- one whose stunning vistas bowled critics over even as they yawned through its languid pace and shrugged at its simple presentation of a Montana family's multi-generational dynamic (as TV Guide wrote, "it's hard to get excited by fisherman casting their lines into the water"). Still, in spite of its lack of flash, River afforded Pitt an early opportunity to work with some tremendously talented individuals, and proved he was more than just the cowboy-hatted hunk he portrayed in Thelma & Louise. Caryn James of the New York Times was suitably impressed, writing, "here are two things I never thought I'd say: I like a movie about fly fishing, and Robert Redford has directed one of the most ambitious, accomplished films of the year."
Nothing gets a cineaste's anticipation humming like news of a new Terrence Malick film -- and since Malick is nothing if not deliberate, we had plenty of time to hum over Tree of Life. Originally announced in the wake of Malick's 2005 effort The New World, it tumbled down the release schedule throughout 2009 and 2010 before finally bowing in May 2011 -- all 139 inscrutable minutes of it. The product of Malick's progressively harder-to-contain ambition, Life took viewers from the dawn of life to the 21st century, leaving plenty of room for solid acting from Pitt and Jessica Chastain -- as well as hosannas from critics like Salon's Andrew O'Hehir, who deemed it "a noble crazy, a miraculous William Butler Yeats kind of crazy, alive with passion for art and the world, for all that is lost and not lost and still to come."
On the surface, it looks like just another buddy cop movie -- in fact, with its "retiring detective partnered with unorthodox rookie" setup, it could have been a Lethal Weapon ripoff. Of course, as we all now know, David Fincher's Se7en brought its own dark twist to the genre, plunging the viewer into a bottomless pit of sorrow, rage, and moral decay -- and ultimately refusing to help them climb out at the end. With Fincher's amped-up direction, Darius Khondji's gripping cinematography, and mesmerizing performances from Morgan Freeman and Kevin Spacey, Pitt could conceivably just shown up to take a paycheck without damaging Se7en too much, but instead, he helped take it to another level, using his youthful good looks -- and his character's mounting horror and confusion -- as a painful visual analogy for the brutal loss of innocence and compassion suffered by everyone in the film. Though some critics took issue with Se7en's constant gloom and grisly violence, most scribes echoed the sentiments of Netflix's James Rocchi, who called it "a harrowingly bleak vision that haunted me in the theatres and made my flesh slick with fear even on this recent re-viewing."