Addressing an injustice. A commanding and perhaps overblown way to start a piece which discusses why I think old Bruce has had a raw deal when it comes to how we perceive his filmography.
Despite most of us thinking action is his genre of choice – the Die Hard franchise being the obvious reference point – I think his best work is much more varied. Let’s look at some of the more intriguing characters that I’d argue have more effectively shaped his career:
Death Becomes Her (1992) – Ernest Menville
Let’s face it, this film was largely a slugging match between Meryl Streep and Goldie Hawn with Willis stuck in the middle. Although his character Ernest did, in some ways, hold the film together in an unhinged yet compelling way.
Pulp Fiction (1994) – Butch Coolidge
Career defining? Most definitely. To be honest, all the actors in this film walked away with their cool-o-meter firmly cranked to the max. Indeed, Bruce’s Butch had some standout scenes and lines; from Marsellus Wallace and the Gold Watch to ‘Zed’s dead baby, Zed’s dead.’
Twelve Monkeys (1995) – James Cole
In terms of off-the-rails performances he’s overshadowed by Brad Pitt, yet Willis puts in a commanding performance as a man whose life – and by extension his sanity – is in a constant loop. Whilst Terry Gilliam pulled the strings, Bruce deftly brought the character to life. Eminently watchable.
Sin City (2005) – Hartigan
Having been relatively quiet since the mid ’90s, this little film noir reignited the fire in old Bruce again, pushing his cool-o-meter back up to Pulp Fiction levels. A sublime portrayal of a washed up cop, fighting to save the most pure character in Frank Miller’s dark, gritty tale – Jessica Alba’s skinny little Nancy Callahan.
Moonrise Kingdom (2012) – Captain Sharp
Bruce the action star in a Wes Anderson film? Surely not. Despite the part not being extensive, his character firmly earns a place on this list: a lonely, depressed police Captain, sharing some rather tender scenes with one of the film’s main characters, a young boy in love. Whilst Willis does cool well, he does flawed far better.
For this post I’d like to discuss the career and my chosen favourite roles of Mr William Bradley Pitt. But where are some of his recent critically acclaimed films you may ask? Well, I can only list films I’ve seen and I have yet to see Tree of Life, Moneyball and Babel, so cannot include them. From what I’ve heard, they’d probably make my list. Alas, not this time.
Tyler Durden, Fight Club (1999)
Mesmerising scenes, endlessly quotable dialogue. Became a cult hit largely due to Pitt’s character and performance. Raw, edgy, masculine and totally cool.
Detective David Mills, Se7en (1995)
Here he convinced as a young, headstrong detective. The conflicting emotions portrayed in the climactic scene were astounding.
Lt. Aldo Raine, Inglourious Basterds (2009)
Perfectly cast as the leader of the Basterds, with some great comic moments. His Italian scene was a classic.
John Smith, Mr and Mrs Smith (2005)
Take two of the most attractive and charismatic stars in the world, throw in assassination, action and zinging one liners and what do you get? Pure chemistry.
Louis du point du lac, Interview with the Vampire (1994)
Beautiful and distant with deep, melancholic eyes, Pitt played Louis the conflicted vampire perfectly. Watch his revenge scene.
Jeffrey Goines, Twelve Monkeys (1995)
Twitchy, edgy, mischievous and full of mayhem. He was nominated for an Academy Award and won a Golden Globe for his performance in one of Terry Gilliam’s best films.
Jesse James, The Assassination of Jesse James (2007)
This film divided critics. It’s beautifully shot with a strong, understated performance from Pitt. He gives James a melancholic weariness, which is both troubling and beautiful. The assassination scene will stay with you.
Mickey O’Neil, Snatch (2000)
With an accent that was impossible to understand, Pitt’s take on the hard-fighting pikey gypsy was truly memorable. Switching effortlessly from wisecracking to intense, unwavering aggression.
Floyd, True Romance (1993)
A year before – what I consider – his breakout role in Interview with the Vampire, he appeared as a stoner providing comic relief in this Tarantino scripted, Tony Scott directed film. Don’t con-den-sen-in me man!
Jerry Welbach, The Mexican (2001)
Hapless, romantic, but well-meaning. Pitt gives Jerry a warmth and charm so you root for him throughout. An underrated performance.
In terms of characters, a mixed bunch. For me, Pitt is at his best when combining comedy and intensity. With the exception of Se7en, Interview with the Vampire and Jesse James, the rest of my list are – to a degree – comically driven characters. Or at least, that’s how he played them.
I think what defines a lot of his performances is charisma. Magnetism, sex appeal, the ability to hold the screen – whatever you want to call it, all the best have it. Take his scenes in True Romance as an example. Genius.