Thursday, June 16, 2005

Defending Brad Pitt

I had a pretty darn good time at Mr. and Mrs. Smith, a silly, shallow, summer action movie, made with skill and good sense. The audience I saw it with really seemed to enjoy it, and I wasn't surprised that it ended up being a hit.

I was somewhat surprised that critics panned it as much as they did. It struck me that if this was a silly, shallow, summer action movie from Hong Kong, with Andy Lau and Zhang Ziyi instead of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, it would have received the rave reviews of something like Kung Fu Hustle, a silly, shallow action movie that everybody but me seemed to adore.

However, this post is meant to address a handful of critics who liked Mr. and Mrs. Smith, but damned Brad Pitt's performance with faint praise, pointing out that, hey, he's okay, but he's just not in the same league as Angelina Jolie.

For what it's worth, I agree. Angelina Jolie is a high-octane performer. She dives into a role, makes it her own, and the only thing stopping her from being a genuine movie star is that until this movie she hadn't really had a big hit.

On the other hand, though Brad Pitt is closer to being a genuine movie star (in that his presence alone is better able to ensure that a movie "opens big"), he doesn't really bring that much to the table, compared to a movie star/big time actor like Russell Crowe or a movie star/big time entertainer like Will Smith.

Generally, Pitt has three things going for him: (1) he's good looking, (2) he can play "cool" pretty well, and (3) he has a sense of humor about (1) and (2). This has been enough to make him a pretty enjoyable presence in movies such as True Romance and Ocean's Eleven. But he's been almost unbearable in movies that have actually required him to give a performance. In general, the harder Pitt works, the worse he comes off.

But the reason I titled this post "Defending Brad Pitt" and not "Slagging Brad Pitt in a More Roundabout Way" is that in Mr. and Mrs. Smith he does something rather clever with his performance that I haven't seen many critics mention. Mr. Smith not only discovers that his wife is secretly in the same business--professional high-tech assassination--as he is, but that she's actually a lot better than him at it. What I found funniest about the last half of the movie, was the way Pitt played Mr. Smith's shifting reaction to this discovery: one moment he's woozy with admiration for her hela-cool hit-man moves and the next he's fuming at her because he feels emasculated by her prowess.

I'm not sure if the idea of Mr. Smith having this ambiguous/conflicted reaction was in the original screenplay or if Doug Liman, the director, thought it up or what, but it's one of the best ideas in the movie and Pitt brings it off with style. And the whole thing is made even funnier because, yes, as performers, Brad Pitt is outclassed by Angelina Jolie. I'm not sure it would have worked as well with someone who could have really gone toe-to-toe with Jolie, like Russell Crowe.

1 comment:

Dick said...

Hey, Forager.

I agree with almost all of what you've said here. It sure does seem that Brad Pitt has two acting "modes" -- the uber-self-indulgent mode (Se7en, Twelve Monkeys, Legends of the Fall, etc.) and the relaxed mode (Ocean's 11, Mr. & Mrs. Smith, True Romance, etc.). It seems like his energy comes from a totally different place when he's doing comedy; and these instincts seem to be better (more 'actory') than his 'actory' instincts, if that makes any sense.

The little light I can shed ... having read the original Mr. & Mrs. Smith script about two years ago, I think it's safe to chalk the subtleties you've noted up to Pitt. The screenplay was very non-directorial, from what I recall. And reports from the set indicate Pitt & Liman weren't so simpatico--I doubt Doug influenced the performance much at all. Hilarious example: when Jolie was doing a close-up (an over-the-shoulder on Pitt), Liman encouraged Pitt to be more emotional (doubtlessly so that Jolie would have more to work with). Pitt's response: "You're shooting the back of my head." Liman: "Well, let me see more emotion from the back of your head then."