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Debate Club: From Fight Club to fighting zombies, Brad Pitt's 5 best genre roles

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Sep 18, 2019

Welcome to Debate Club, where Tim Grierson and Will Leitch, the hosts of the Grierson & Leitch podcast, tackle the greatest arguments in pop culture.

This Friday, Brad Pitt stars in one of his most ambitious projects, the meditative, immersive sci-fi drama Ad Astra.

Brad's an Oscar winner as a producer on 12 Years a Slave, and he's received three nominations as an actor, but he's also been part of some of the most iconic genre films of the last few decades. Whether dripping in swagger or having a laugh playing a total oddball, the 55-year-old is one of the last of the classic movie stars, drawing audiences to theaters simply because we want to see what he does next.

As he prepares for his journey into the cosmos, let's look back at his five finest genre roles.

Mickey O'Neil, Snatch (2000)

Before Guy Ritchie was the man behind the live-action Aladdin remake, he was busy delivering grungy British crime comedies filled with eccentric characters. Snatch concerns a missing diamond and the crooks determined to track it down, and one of them is Mickey, who's a part-time boxer. The entirety of Pitt's kooky performance — and its central joke — is that Mickey has the goofiest, most unintelligible Irish accent you ever did hear. Sure, it's more of a shtick than a nuanced portrayal — the whole thing would be sophomoric if it wasn't so damn funny. Nonetheless, Pitt screws around brilliantly as a guy who's probably taken one too many hits to the noggin, and it's an inspired, although admittedly slight, performance in an otherwise so-so caper flick.

Gerry Lane, World War Z (2013)

It's easy to forget — particularly now that Pitt’s struggling to get a sequel off the ground — but this adaptation of the Max Brooks novel was considered a financial boondoggle for most of its production, to the point that Pitt himself had to step in and usher it to completion. World War Z turned out to be a massive hit, and we'd argue that’s largely because of the steadying influence of Pitt. In a world gone mad, Pitt's earnest levelheadedness comes in handy: you believe he's the hero because he doesn't feel like the hero.

Jeffrey Goines, 12 Monkeys (1995)

Pitt was still proving himself as a Serious Actor in Terry Gilliam's time-travel epic, and while sometimes he's perhaps a little too antic as the mental patient who may or may not be The Only Guy Who Understands, he's as magnetic as ever. Plus, he's undeniably funny — here is your periodic reminder that while Pitt's one of the biggest movie stars on the planet, he's also pretty hilarious. As a side note, enjoy his ongoing bit as the weatherman on The Jim Jefferies Show.

David Mills, Se7en (1995)

Before Brad Pitt signed up for David Fincher's dark serial-killer whodunit, he had two conditions: his character's wife (played by Gwyneth Paltrow) had to be in the box at the end of the film, and he had to lash out (wrath out?) by killing Kevin Spacey's bad guy. He got his wish, which helps explain why Se7en is one of the most memorable and upsetting of modern thrillers.

Pitt showed an edgier side as David Mills, a hotshot detective paired up with the retiring William Somerset (Morgan Freeman), and the more twisted the story becomes, the more committed this rookie gets to capturing the mysterious John Doe. Se7en proved what Pitt and Fincher could do — the film never compromises its bleak vision of humanity's worst tendencies. Since then, they've teamed up two more times, on Fight Club (1999) and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008), two films which couldn't be more different from one another.

Tyler Durden, Fight Club (1999)

It's actually quite a task to ask an actor to, essentially, personify the most toxic alpha-male aspects of a suppressed personality while not only still being cool but even sort of likable. Pitt's movie-star charisma and his willingness to push himself and take on daring projects merged perfectly here, with a director in David Fincher who knew exactly how to use him best. Tens of thousands of online avatars were inspired by Pitt in Fight Club, for better and for (mostly) worse.

Grierson & Leitch write about the movies regularly and host a podcast on film. Follow them on Twitter or visit their site.

 

 

 

 

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