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Brad Pitt today is one of the most popular and successful actors in Hollywood. He's been in countless movies that have received critical acclaim, major awards consideration, and box office success. He's the definition of a movie star.
These days, we're used to seeing Pitt in strong roles in movies from great directors. Seeing him nominated for his sixth Golden Globe earlier this month for his role in Quentin Tarantino's Once Upon a Time...in Hollywood was no real shock. It's the sort of role, the sort of movie, and the sort of result, that we've largely come to expect from Pitt.
However, that wasn't always the case. In fact you can actually pinpoint the moment in Brad Pitt's career when the types of movies and roles he appeared in began to change, and Brad Pitt will tell you it all came about as a result of 2004's Troy. In an interview with the New York Times. Pitt admits that he was disappointed with that movie, and it resulted in him making a change to the way he decided on roles. Back in the early 2000s, Pitt admits he was making a lot of decisions based on advice from others...
But you’re absolutely right. I’m happy someone could read that. It was really a turn on Troy. I was disappointed in it. When you’re trying to figure things out in your career, you get a lot of advice. People are telling you that you should be doing this, and other people are saying you should be doing that. There was this defining film I never got to do, a Coen brothers film called To the White Sea. We had an opportunity to go, and then it was shut down. Then another interesting opportunity arose, and instead I was talked into: ‘No, you need to be doing this other thing. You can get to your art project later.’ I ended up taking that advice.
Brad Pitt has been a leading man since the mid-90s, following roles in Interview with a Vampire and Legends of the Fall. He made a lot of films in the next decade or so, some of them, like 12 Monkeys, Fight Club, and Seven would still be considered some of his best work. But there's also a lot of work in there that many have probably forgotten about and for good reason, many of them are forgettable films.
It would be interesting to know which movie Brad Pitt was interested in back then that he didn't end up taking. There have been several situations like that in his career.
Clearly, Brad Pitt was trying to find his place in Hollywood, trying out lots of different roles in different types of movies. As Pitt further explains, the issue with Troy wasn't that he choose it over some other movie and now regrets the decision. In fact, it turns out Pitt didn't really choose Troy at all. It was simply that he discovered he didn't like being in the kind of movie that Troy was and so he decided going forward that he would choose roles that he wanted
But that really made me think, 'I’m following my gut from here on out.' I had to do Troy because — I guess I can say all this now — I pulled out of another movie and then had to do something for the studio. So I was put in Troy. It wasn’t painful, but I realized that the way that movie was being told was not how I wanted it to be. I made my own mistakes in it. What am I trying to say about Troy? I could not get out of the middle of the frame. It was driving me crazy. I’d become spoiled working with David Fincher. It’s no slight on Wolfgang Petersen. Das Boot is one of the all-time great films. But somewhere in it, Troy became a commercial kind of thing. Every shot was like, Here’s the hero! There was no mystery. So about that time I made a decision that I was only going to invest in quality stories, for lack of a better term. It was a distinct shift that led to the next decade of films.
If there's one sort of movie that is largely missing from Brad Pitt's filmography, it's the big budget action blockbuster. Troy is one of the few movies that might qualify as that, and it seems that while Pitt was making it he decided that he wasn't interested in any more. While Pitt has been at the center of the camera a lot in most of his movies, hell he's practically the only character in Ad Astra, there was clearly something different about Troy that he didn't like, though he bends over backwards to make it a "it's not you, it's me" sort of situation.
It would be quite interesting if things had gone differently on Troy. If Brad Pitt had enjoyed being the hero in a commercial action blockbuster, he might have become one of the central characters in the Marvel Cinematic Universe or found a place in a Star Wars movie. The closest thing he's done since Troy was World War Z, and even that was a less commercial take on the zombie movie genre than we're used to seeing.
Instead he decided he wanted to make very different movies, and you can see that in the choices he made. Following Troy Brad Pitt makes films like The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, Burn After Reading, making that Coen Brothers movie that he missed out on the first time around, Inglorious Bastards with Quentin Tarantino, The Tree of Life with Terrance Malik, and Moneyball. These are certainly not movies you would define as commercial.
In the end, the decision certainly worked out for Brad Pitt. While his movies might not be huge moneymakers, they tend to be successful. Critically, they are almost universally praised. A quick look at Rotten Tomatoes shows that few of the movies Brad Pitt has acted in since 2004 have been critically panned. There are a lot more of those negative reviews on his earlier films.
It seems that Brad Pitt going with his gut has been a good move for Brad Pitt. It's also good for the rest of us. He's making the movies he wants to make and we're getting some great films out of the deal.