FILM & TV
Ad Astra marks a new chapter for Brad Pitt
Words by Rob Chilton
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Riding high on the back of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Pitt is back for more in the sci-fi thriller which proves the iconic movie star is entering a golden period of his career
It’s hard to think of a more magnificent movie star moment than the scene in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button when Brad Pitt rides an Indian Scout motorcycle one-handed along a country road, wearing aviator shades and a brown biker jacket. The shot is only a few seconds but it has everything: cool clothes and an iconic accessory in the sunglasses; an even cooler motorcycle; golden brown lighting; motion and speed; American romanticism; and – at the centre of it all – a ridiculously handsome man.
We shouldn’t be surprised though. Magnificent movie star moments are what Brad Pitt does. How about his double denim, cowboy hatted debut in Thelma & Louise? Or strolling through a casino on Ocean’s Eleven? He made fishing cool in A River Runs Through It. The climax of Se7en and that tortured, repeated line of dialogue “What’s in the box?!” is an agonising finale. Talking gibberish to Jason Statham and Stephen Graham as an Irish traveller in Snatch showed his comedy skills. Twitching and yabbering to Bruce Willis in the hospital in Twelve Monkeys won him his first Oscar nomination, Benjamin Button gave him his second, 13 years later.
Engineering multiple player trades on the phone while munching popcorn in Moneyball is pure screen energy (another Oscar nod). The “first rule of fight club” scene gave birth to his very own catchphrase. Pitt leaping through the air clutching a sword as Achilles in Troy was blockbuster gold. His desperate pleading with villagers to help him and his injured wife (played by Cate Blanchett) in Babel is heartbreaking. The scene where he chides two young investment bankers for gloating about making money from others’ misfortune in The Big Short stops you in your tracks.
Then there's his introductory monologue in Inglorious B******s (“100 Nazi scalps!”) which is a scene you can watch over and over. Pitt’s most recent performance in Quentin Tarantino’s super stylish and critically-adored Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is basically one, big perfect Hollywood moment and is sure to put him among the Oscar contenders next year – although Pitt feeding his dog in the trailer is the scene that will be replayed for years to come.
His face, his ever so slightly staccato delivery of lines and his sheer fame that says ‘Look at me, I am a movie star’ sucks in audiences to all these memorable screen moments. Pitt has several more of these rewind-and-play-that-bit-again clips in Ad Astra, the science-fiction thriller out now.
Pitt plays an Army Corps engineer searching for his long lost astronaut father, played by Tommy Lee Jones, who never returned from a mission to find alien life on Neptune. Pitt’s character Major Roy McBride is described by the movie’s director James Gray as “someone with schizoid tendencies” – just the sort of complexity that Pitt relishes. While Once Upon a Time in Hollywood with Leonardo DiCaprio was the movie of the summer (and possibly the year), Ad Astra has snuck up on audiences and become a hit. A strong supporting cast consisting of the aforementioned Jones, plus Ruth Negga, Liv Tyler and Donald Sutherland adds weight to the thought-provoking and philosophical story whose tagline is: ‘The answers we seek are just outside our reach.’
Writer/director James Gray who made The Lost City of Z with Charlie Hunnam, Robert Pattinson and Sienna Miller as well as We Own the Night, The Immigrant and Two Lovers, all of which starred Joaquin Phoenix, was surprisingly honest about the film’s prospects at the box office. “I have no idea how the world is going to receive it because you never know that sort of thing.” One thing he is certain of, however, is Pitt’s performance. “He’s really great in the movie,” adds Gray. “He’s brought a lot of his personal commitment to it.”
Commitment is something that’s often mentioned in conversations about Brad Pitt. The actor is known for both his loyalty and sticking to a creative path that he believes is right. It’s a motto that has served him well, earning an estimated personal bank balance of around $250 million and three Oscar nominations. He is Hollywood royalty. However, he still has spells of anxiety.
“It’s a constant battle,” he reveals. “You gain wisdom as you get older, so self-doubt gets less, hopefully. But it’s universal, that battle in the mind between beating yourself up and finding a place of peace. It is something an individual has to be aware of inside, so sure, to some degree [there is insecurity]. But hopefully the focus as you get older is on acceptance.”
According to Hollywood gossip, Pitt is still in the midst of a difficult divorce from Angelina Jolie that has been dragging on for almost a decade, his second divorce after his failed five-year marriage to Jennifer Aniston. Other gossip hints that he’s dating Charlize Theron. Pitt seemed jovial and mellow during interviews and red carpet appearances for Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.
Now 55, Pitt has become an iconic actor whose career has now stretched across almost 30 years, from his golden era when his name was the universal shorthand for handsomeness to this increasingly interesting period now where he has the Hollywood clout to make bold movie choices. Unlike many other actors whose looks got them through the door and no further, Pitt managed to shake off his pretty boy label and delve into unexpected areas, Twelve Monkeys being a prime example. In this way, Pitt shares a career trajectory with Matthew McConaughey, who also shrugged off his rom-com tag and instead made movies like Dallas Buyers Club, Mud and Interstellar.
Pitt recently revealed his love for gritty movies like Bonnie and Clyde, Easy Rider, The Graduate, Dog Day Afternoon and The French Connection so perhaps it’s no surprise that he’s now agreeing to star in movies with meaning such as 12 Years a Slave, The Big Short and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.
Although still a major attraction on the red carpet and the box office, Pitt must be thankful that he’s no longer target number one on the paparazzi list, as he was for years during his heavily scrutinised relationships with Aniston and Jolie. Opening himself up to social media, therefore, is anathema to Pitt. Asked if he might create an Instagram account, he smiled, “Never gonna happen. Well, I never say never. Life’s pretty good without it. I don’t see the point.”
Thankfully, for cinema fans who are hungry for more great Brad Pitt movie moments, retirement is another item missing from his to-do list – for now. “I don’t know,” ponders Pitt. “I enjoy doing other things. I think that one day I’ll just wake up and organically it’ll be done. Maybe I won’t wake up and that’s why it’ll be done.”
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