Brad Pitt and the Beauty Trap

Male stars face a double standard, too, and ever since he bared his chest in “Thelma & Louise,” his work has been undervalued. But look closer and he explores masculinity in complex ways.

Comments: 212

  1. Pitt has had a few good performances, but has yet to make up for turkeys like A River Runs Through It, and rationalizing Fight Club, as done in this ode to bare chests, is almost inexcusable. The real challenge is not comparing Pitt movies to Pitt movies. For example, his performance in Moneyball is a 2 to Costner's 10 in Draft Day, while his 4 in Mr and Mrs Smith shrinks compared to any of the principles in any Bourne movie. Hollywood continues to prefer fluff to acting.

  2. @K8vale I think I understand acting enough to wonder how you couldn't like Pitt in a river runs through it. He embodies the elegiac tone that is threaded throughout this gem of a movie, based on the equally memorable story.

  3. @renee agree, one of my favorite movies...Pitt is great, as is the entire cast...

  4. @K8vale Fight Club was a fine film and Pitt's performance was everything you could want in a movie. It requires no rationalizing. The fact that contemporary Americans can't appreciate satire unless it's blatantly obvious is not the fault of the film or anyone who worked on it. Not their fault that right-wing idiots treat it as a training film. Maybe they'd be a little less excited about it if they knew the author of the novel on which it is closely and well-based is a gay man.

  5. Extreme beauty is a trap- and those trapped there are completely disallowed from even remotely discussing it. Only others may comment upon it and demurrals are required, despite it literally being the first and often only characteristic ever mentioned or perceived by others. It is universally agreed that extreme beauty is a blessing that over compensates the individual and allowing others to consume it as they choose is the required payment. To "complain" from within it is unacceptable. "Squandering" extreme beauty due to age, illness or misadventure is a salacious topic filled with schadenfreude so deep that possibly only the loss of a great financial fortune rivals it.

  6. @MrsWhit I can't remember the last time I saved a reader's comment, but I saved this one. Excellent.

  7. @MrsWhit, yup, I agree with Sam Francisco: you've written an excellent comment, the best in response to this article, in my humble opinion. Thank you.

  8. You do not earn extreme beauty which when you have it also complicated how you see yourself for better or worse. I think it is harder for women than men given the common objectification of women and desire for trophy partners by men. I guess like having money you are never quite sure why you are loved.

  9. no mention of Snatch? to me, his best performance.

  10. @enuf not sure if it is his best performance, but it sure is weird, stunning, and terrific to watch...

  11. Totally agree

  12. @enuf I totally agree!

  13. Pitt haas turned into a class act and performer. Age has made him reflect and the outcome has been some truly amazing performances with insight and sensitivity.

  14. Pitt’s series of exceptionally unattractive hair cuts, or rather lack thereof, and lame facial hair have done much to undercut his pretty boy image. One assumes this has been by design. A fine actor nonetheless.

  15. @Ethan - Burt Reynolds wore different hair styles and facial hair that were not beauty enhancing; he remained helplessly beautiful. Pitt is the same. Not Leo, IMHO.

  16. I don't watch many new movies anymore. I find them on the whole too scary. The ones I watch now are from the thirties and forties. With guys like Humphrey Bogart, Warren William, William Powell, and Cary Grant. Not necessarily pretty, but smart, caustic and witty, who appealed to women like Mary Astor, Katherine Hepburn, Rosalind Russell and Myrna Loy, who still appeal to me.

  17. @A. Stanton... I agree with what Warren Beaty said back in the nineties in Vanity Fair Magazine: "Hollywood makes a lot of Movies every year... and most of them just are not very good." "There is no such thing as a Movie Star who is younger than you are." Unfortunately I will be 65 in March.

  18. @A. Stanton It's good to hear from the 146 year olds once in a while :)

  19. @A. Stanton I never, ever say this, but in this instance, I just can't pass up the opportunity... OK, Boomer.

  20. I first truly noticed him in "Legends of the Fall", and it was for his looks. I haven't seen everything he's done, but his acting is spot on. I actually forget it is "Brad Pitt" when I'm watching a movie he is in. That is the mark of a great actor, and that much more difficult to achieve when you stand out for your looks.

  21. @Diane Ferguson Legends of the Fall was mentioned as a "dud". Not so - it was an epic dramatic story and one we enjoyed re-watching many times. My daughter had the whole script memorized as a young child!

  22. @Diane Ferguson . I actually forget it is "Brad Pitt" when I'm watching a movie he is in. That is the mark of a great actor, and that much more difficult to achieve when you stand out for your looks. Agreed! I know I will be vilified but that is why I do not like Meryl Streep. No matter what movie she is in (except the earlier ones) I can never get into her character it is always Meryl Streep as... Julia and Julia is one such example.

  23. @Zoenzo Out of Africa?

  24. Brad Pitt is actually an excellent actor. That said, it's damning him with faint praise to credit his performance in Ad Astra, not through any fault of his own, but because that movie was a piece of badly written junk, from the point of view of a science fiction fan.

  25. While watching Once Upon A Time in Hollywood, it occurred to me that Brad Pitt’s career could easily trace that of Paul Newman’s later roles. Character roles of flawed souls whose parts are enhanced by the charisma, good looks, and charm of the actor.

  26. @Ellen, my thoughts exactly!

  27. His performance in Twelve Years a Slave was revelatory.

  28. I have never understood his appeal and have never been interested in his movies. Lionizing pretty faced film stars is silly.

  29. @Chris He is an excellent actor.

  30. @Chris You just made the author's point, and the point of many commenters here--dismissing somebody because he is "pretty faced" is silly.

  31. i'm assuming that's pitt's double hopping around to the roof top

  32. This is one of those "I want to know what time it is and not how the clock works" kind of article. Well written, though, but a lot words to say Brad Pitt is a movie star.

  33. No "Snatch" mention? No one knows what he was saying in that movie, but you knew what he meant. Body language, intonation, facial tics. That's talent. No one watches that movie for anything but those scenes of him. Hysterical. That's enough for most film watchers. But everything else you said...agreed.

  34. A paean of american masculinity with a pudic leaf on Michelangelo masterpiece; what a irony.

  35. Brad Pitt's performance in "Tree of Life" for me sealed his bonafides as a major actor.

  36. @m EXACTLY....

  37. @m Yes. He was brilliant in that.

  38. @m Agreed! And it's a very "un-Pitt" role in that he's an ordinary suburban dad with absolutely no glamour or appeal. I grew up in the suburbs in that era and he impeccably and powerfully conveyed what an authoritarian father was like then. Pitt commits fully to the character, not holding anything back so you will like him more as an actor or see the "hey I'm not really this guy" (as many actors might do). The moment when his son considers that he could kill his father is amazing because you have been brought into that near-homicidal feeling towards Pitt's character. My spouse found it so close to his own relationship with his father growing up that it was very hard for him to watch. I think if the movie consisted only of that storyline, it would be considered a small masterpiece.

  39. I hope he hates this article. Women have long objected to the kind of physical tear-apart and put together fawning analysis of their bodies . I believe he is a serious actor of great talent and I am sad he has to play this game.

  40. @Kathy Millard Did you actually read the article? It describes how his talent, naturalness, and intelligence as an actor has been undermined for years by his pretty-boy image, and that perhaps this is finally being put to rights.

  41. Everything you have written is true, yet it is difficult not to see Brad Pitt the celebrity in each role. If you can enjoy that--celebrity--then Brad Pitt is wonderful. If you find it distracting, annoying, beside the point--then Brad Pitt is to be pitied. Tarantino should direct him forever. I'll see every film.

  42. Supporting actor for Once Upon ...? I haven’t dug up the stopwatch but Pitt is on screen a LOT, seemingly as much as Leo, who is equally fab.

  43. My favorite Brad Pitt role was as Death in "Meet Joe Black". He more than held his own with the always superb Anthony Hopkins in a very well done movie. And, no, I didn't mind his Jamaican accent in one of the movie's best scenes.

  44. @Don Oberbeck Oh, Christ. He does a Jamaican accent? Ugh. I was starting to like him!

  45. @Don Oberbeck His scenes when he spoke patois were indeed compelling. . .

  46. @Don Oberbeck I imagine MJB is a movie that Pitt would rather forget.

  47. The quintessential 'gorgeous' was Patrick Swayze. Pitt doesn't hold a candle to him.

  48. @signalfire, and he never did a thing for me so it's a matter of taste.

  49. my wife informs me that it wasn't the bared chest that sold her on brad pitt, it was the bared six pack. also, the stetson.

  50. I’ve always thought Brad Pitt was an exceptional actor..I love his Midwest twang and delivery makes him sound authentic.

  51. 1991 and still ongoing. I can imagine Brad Pitt playing 'James Bond', mentioning James Dean and the imho righteous comparison made me smile. Thanks for the beautiful article, let's enjoy 'James Dean 2' in the future. ( - :

  52. And let's hear it for Brad Pitt in "Snatch" (2000) by Guy Ritchie and "Burn After Reading" (2008) by the Coen Brothers. More than just another (very) pretty face, Pitt has brilliant comedic timing and is only getting better with time.

  53. @N. Smith , I haven't seen Snatch (or if I did, forgot it), but Burn After Reading shows Pitt unafraid to be ridiculous and hilarious, with no "beauty" hangups at all. It's probably my favorite of his movies. I didn't enjoy T&L, thought it was a dumb movie, with some memorable acting by Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon. Pitt was just eye candy, as far as I remember.

  54. @J Houlding I had to see " Thelma & Louise" a second time to even register seeing Brad Pitt, so I know what you mean. That said, please try to see "Snatch" -- both Pitt and his wildly unusual accenting it are brilliant!...and funny, too.

  55. @J Houlding Pitt has a talent for manic, indeed insane, characters, including the guy he played in Burn After Reading, but especially the madman in 12 Monkeys. That's the work of his I love best. His eyes are remarkably expressive of a paranoid mania.

  56. I completely disagree. In my opinion, Brad Pitt cannot act. No matter what role he plays, instead of inhabiting the character, he is always Brad Pitt. Actors of his ilk are in it for the money. They make millions, jet around the world, and are afraid to risk everything by taking a few much-needed acting lessons.

  57. @Kittiecorner Uh, nope. Did you even read this article? He studied acting for years, has a great interest/involvement and talent for architecture, and is the rare actor who actually does give back. He's grown so much, and transcends his obvious great looks. Perhaps educate yourself before climbing up on your soapbox.

  58. @Kittiecorner I imagine that your opinion is a constant, that with a few word changes to adjust to the situation, you have pretty much the same opinion about a great many things that many of us find to be wonderful.

  59. Two movies. Burn after reading. Twelve monkeys. See if you still think he’s always the same in everything after those two turns.

  60. I very much appreciate this article, but I am shocked at the omission of Brad Pitt's work in Terrence Malick's 2011 masterpiece "Tree of Life", considered by many to be among the greatest films ever made and in no small part to the performance of Brad Pitt as the father character, Mr. O'Brien. It is the masculinity of his character in contrast to Jessica Chastain's Mrs. O'Brien's femininity and their complexity which makes it such an amazing self-introspective movie.

  61. Male stars can endure past their beauty years to reveal the extent of their talents, if the talent is there. Women, on the other hand have a few brief years, and are then shoved out of the industry, talent or not--99% of them, anyway.

  62. @The Poet McTeagle: Women's time in the sun does however start earlier. Not enough to compensate for the earlier culling, but increasingly an advantage as this discrimination withers.

  63. @The Poet McTeagle Meryl Streep. Judi Dench Maggie Smith Ellen Burstyn Sigourney Weaver Fionnula Flanagan Vanessa Redgrave Betty White among many.... many others might beg to disagree

  64. McTeagle, Your spot on comment reminds me of my reading a life-wisdom story written in 1960 by Lana Turner. She said that in Hollywood, people can be so stunned by ones physical beauty that they can’t see past it. This means, as Turner said, that when a women’s beauty fades (inevitable, actually) she is discarded. And never were any other qualities appreciated, like maybe intelligence or an empathetic heart. Turner expressed her own dismay as she realized the fleeting value she would have in the movie business.

  65. Crush

  66. "Golden sex pony." Writing like this is why I miss Manohla Dargis.

  67. In Thelma & Louise, Mr. Pitt's abs were more memorable than his chest.

  68. I'll die before understanding how having such an expressionless face can be called acting. In movies, editing and a bunch of others tricks can make no acting like acting.

  69. "Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know." It is amazing in our culture how beauty is honored and dishonored at the same time. Beautiful women are honored when they put on makeup that tamps down, even effaces, that beauty. Charlize Theron. Nicole Kidman. Sometimes actors are so great that the public doesn't see beyond that to the beauty. Meryl Streep. Beautiful men get their awards when they distort their bodies. Daniel Day-Lewis. Robert De Niro. This year's Joaquin Phoenix. I don't mean to imply that their performances are not great, merely to suggest it is the distortion for which they are being honored. Think of Tom Cruise and "Born on the Fourth of July." De Niro is not normally thought of as a particularly beautiful man. Certainly pleasant-enough looking back in the day. Once I saw him in a two-character off-Broadway play with Shelly Winters in which he played the beautiful young gigolo to her aging actress. He ACTED beautiful, and he convinced the audience that he was as gorgeous as the young Brad Pitt. When Pitt burst on the scene in "Thelma and Louise," all that the world could talk about was how sexy and beautiful he was. But if you look at the clip of that scene in the article and pay attention to his face and how his body moves, you see what a fine actor he was even then. Well, he might get an Oscar this year, but if not, he can take comfort in how long it took Paul Newman to get one.

  70. @Jonathan I agree. When we walked away from the theater after seeing Thelma and Louise, it was his superb acting that was talked about more than anything else. He went flawlessly from the super confident guy to just a scared kid when caught. I said then, that young man is going to high places. I loved him in Tree of Life, as well. Perhaps, and much like Paul Newman, his roles and rewards for acting will come along more often now as the middle aged actor he has become.

  71. I just need to know where I can buy that statue. #BradasDavid

  72. @Louise?!? On the Cape? Is that where you and Thelma ended up?

  73. @Susan BK Yup! Over the cliff and onto the sandbar!

  74. And remind me again how many Oscars hath Harrison Ford? Han Solo? Indiana Jones? Rick Deckard? And a few more. Eh? How many? Maybe 'the academy' figures if your movies make TOO much money, you're disqualified. Jealousy? Probably.

  75. I never saw "Thelma and Louise" so I cannot comment on Pitt's "beauty" in the film. My favorite Pitt role is the stoner/slacker he played in "True Romance." It's a small part but he nailed it. He was hysterical. I am a huge fan of Paul Newman and for the most part his body of work is excellent and he should have won Academy Awards for "Absence of Malice" and "The Verdict." These two films did not focus on his good looks. And if you want to talk about sexy good looks, Al Pacino in "The Godfather," "Dog Day Afternoon" and "Serpico." Al's looks in those films are the perfect example of what "bedroom eyes" means,

  76. My fave role of his too!

  77. I'm a little surprised that Dargis didn't mention Pitt's performance as the father in Terrence Malick's "The Tree of Life". That was his performance that really stuck with me and convinced me that he had talent beyond his movie idol looks. "Ad Astra" showed some of the same qualities, but the overall mess of the screenplay overshadowed his accomplishments for me.

  78. I too discounted Pitt's acting talents as light-weight. True, some of his roles did not really seem to require much heavy lifting, but as I came to realize about Cary Grant and definitely Paul Newman, making things look easy on screen is hard. Newman famously admitted that getting older was liberating--finally people might be able to see beyond those baby blues and see what an extraordinary actor he was and always had been. Same for Grant, who could breezily play in a romantic comedy, but deliver the goods in a drama. His turn in "His Girl Friday"--is phenomenal--who else could play such a terrible devil with such gusto. Yes, I was pretty swoony when I watched Pitt take off his shirts on the roof in Hollywood, but I left the theatre declaring, "Hey, he can act too!" My money is on him on Oscar night. He deserves the award.

  79. @SNA One of the oddest things in screen history is that Cary Grant never got an Oscar for any of his roles. The weirdest example was Jimmy Stewart getting best actor for Holiday--Grant was clearly the one to get it for that picture; Stewart's was a (marvelous) supporting role. In that case it was a make-up for Stewart not getting it a year before for Mr. Smith Goes to Washington; unfortunately Grant never got one later on for say, any of his Hitchcock roles, etc.

  80. Stewart got his Oscar for “Philadelphia Story “ and I agree- it was really for “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington “. Ronald Coleman beat him, but 1939 was a magic year in movies.

  81. He looks amazing for a man of any age.....bet no asks if he has had any work done.

  82. You hit the nail on the head with this comment. If he were a woman who looked that good at that age, the plastic surgery speculation would be rampant.

  83. @Lawrence He seems to actually smoke too -- read another GQ piece or something where he was lighting up. That usually does not help aging looks....

  84. @Lawrence, of course he has!

  85. I am an admirer of BP's acting skills. He has been good since at least Fight Club and he efficiently underplays his way through all of the tedious (except for the first, despite Soderbergh's talents) Oceans films. Add to that his physical charisma, or, at least, his cinematic attractiveness. The camera loves him as it loves Denzel, as it loved Newman, as it loved JFK and Marilyn and so on. Unlike acting, such a quality cannot be taught or learned. Regarding his celebrity... He, and Al Pacino, and Jack Nicholson before him -- and who knows who else -- have self medicated themselves daily with cannibus or alcohol or something else because our mind boggling and insane modern level of celebrity obviously requires a calming of nerves, a calming of anxieties. How does one take the edge off? Average people on other continents and in other countries knowing and fawning over your face. It is not natural to the human experience...even when Ceaser was on Roman coins, he could easily change robes and walk around his kingdom unrecognized. I'm surprised that we don't see even more celebrities flaming out by overdoses, suicide, etc.

  86. Critics hated "Troy." Outstanding movie. Critics loved "Ad Astra." Terrible movie.

  87. “But Pitt has always moved with the absolute surety you see in some beautiful people (and dancers), the casualness of movement that expresses more than mere confidence, but a sublime lack of self-consciousness and self-doubt about taking up space, something not everyone shares. This isn’t swagger; this is flow.” Enjoyed the article but not the above statement. Isn’t it possible that his confidence is not connected to his looks? When a child is young, they aren’t so aware of their looks (at least Pre Facebook/Instagram). Perhaps his confidence is rooted in his upbringing and activities like sports, etc. Who knows? Ask his family - maybe he always had that quality. To say his “swagger” is based upon his looks seems narrow and lessens him as a person.

  88. @Kim I read something years ago in which Brad Pitt said that when he was still a young boy his mother sat him down and told him that in his lifetime he would get a lot of attention simply because of the way he looked. He found it ridiculous then and seems to have carried that attitude with him all along. He deliberately made himself unattractive for several years, I'd say. I believe he may have also had some good talks with Robert Redford on these subjects.

  89. Counterpoint: Both Pitt and DiCaprio are very lucky middling actors. Hollywood has been very very good to them. Compare either of them to Paul Newman in his mid-50s and there's the stark difference in abilities. The one thing about Pitt is that he is totally Hollywood but hasnt had plastic surgery (yet). Perhaps Pitt wants all of Clint Eastwood's parts.

  90. @K Henderson Let's hope Pitt never has plastic surgery. He's aging beautifully.

  91. @K Henderson That's rough -- DiCaprio has range -- and he's mesmerizing. Pitt -- if any knock on him -- he has never and seems to not ever take over a film -- that could be his personality -- and it's fitting he might win for Best Supporting Actor.

  92. Love Pitt, but Ars Astra was unquestionably in my opinion, the worst film all year. Does anybody want to explain the stranded in space hungry for blood baboons to me, for example?

  93. @Michael Nobody does. Because it is not important. And Ad Astra was one of the best films of the year.

  94. @Michael Some sort of research project being conducted. Frenzied, starving animals escaped and loose in the wake of the catastrophe the ship experienced. I got that. Yes, it was a disjointed shock that wasn't explained outright, purposefully, which made it feel remiscent of 2001, a space odyssey and seemed sort of a cool choice in the moment. Didn't bother me at all. Memorable movie, strong performance.

  95. I know nothing about film making, but I do understand decision making. I think the roof scene noted here is a director's decision, with the actor doing his best to execute. Can't hold the actor accountable for the scene's content, only on how it was performed. N'est-ce-pas?

  96. There can be no article written about Brad Pitt and masculinity without mentioning his role in Snatch. He so completely inhabits that role and shows us many sides of masculinity: his anguish and rage watching his mother burn, his sad satisfaction upon exacting revenge for her death, his brotherly camraderie inside the trailer and huddled outside. Every bit of that role was pure emotion. I hope I never see anyone try to emulate it.

  97. Absolutely right. That may have been his best performance.

  98. It’s the character “Floyd” in True Romance that does it for me. Perfection.

  99. Two comments: 1. Pitt is getting rave notices now because he has become a great actor. He was not particularly good early in his career, in my opinion, and was in the game primarily BECAUSE of his looks. Not a whole lot different than Matthew McConaughey. 2. Being a "beautiful person" can very much be a double-edged sword. It can certainly give on confidence, but it can also make one self-conscious about standing out, knowing people are paying attention.

  100. Sorry but his work is undervalued? He is one of the most popular and successful actors of all time...

  101. During this year of Fellini at 100 I think the way Marcello Mastroianni was framed by his relationship, in Fellini's films, to women and feminine psychology is worth remembering. Marcello is the prototype for Pitt, the male sex symbol working in meaningful films. As if Pauline Kael wrote for Playboy, we watched Marcello's missteps with women because those moments somehow explained the confusions of the new era of sexual freedom. Pitt and Marcello also share an incredible talent for clowning around with their masculinity. This takes their performances towards the metaphysical, by that I mean we can see a transcendent masculine presence precisely because of the humor in their performances.

  102. @Smokepainter* I greatly enjoyed this analysis. And I feel the connection is spot on. Oh what a joy if the NYT could produce writing as stimulating as this!

  103. Smokepainter, Thank you for writing this. You are right on. Best, 8 1/2.

  104. Yeah, I know a bunch of male rights geeks love "Fight Club" but weirdly -- or not -- I know quite a few very proper middle-aged women who love it as well. I'm one of them. I'm not exactly sure why, unless it's that women, particularly well-behaved women, understand the constant performance that is required of those the world admires. Or thinks it does. Also, Brad Pitt and Ed Norton.

  105. A great actor. Joaquin Phoenix is also a great actor. Brad Pitt is a great actor and an old time movie star. I've loved Pitt since "Thelma and Louise." How funny was the J.D. character? Very. My favorite Pitt roles are "Twelve Monkeys" and "Fight Club." One of the things Pitt has going for him - aside from his beauty and his intelligence - is his fine sense of humor. We see Pitt's humor in roles like the "Ocean" movies, where he always seems to be riffing on being a movie star. We also see it in his masterful turn in "Once Upon a Time...In Hollywood." The scene where an LSD-addled Pitt initially reacts stupidly to his home invaders is hilarious. Give Brad Pitt his Academy Award. Pitt's the most iconic, talented and beautiful actor of his generation. That he can also laugh at himself - repeatedly - for our pleasure - is icing on the beautiful cake.

  106. @fast/furious We see Brad Pitt's humor in "Burn After Reading" as well. Hilarious performance!

  107. @fast/furious That was not a stupid reaction; that was a veiled stupid reaction. Cliff was lucidly opaque to deal with the dope with the gun.

  108. @fast/furious Agreed -- Twelve Monkeys is fabulous, and both Pitt and Bruce Willis give excellent performances. A terrific and often underrated film. Pitt's comedic chops, when he gets the change to exercise them, are great.

  109. I think Brad Pitt plays all his roles to the hilt, while never "quite" going over the top. Quite a feat. I felt he deserved an oscar for his performance in Troy. In his opening battle scene when Achilles kills his oversized opponent so effortlessly,the utterly convincing physicality of that role could have been reproduced by "no one." But MORE, in that scene he expressed, without a word, Achilles's complete disdain for his own role in his own fate. And THAT is not given the respect it deserves. His tragic role---as the guy who was "not too bright" and heartbroken because he was merely a toy of his king (albeit a favorite one)---was very well played. Every line, every scene was spot on. But the nature of the role disqualified him for an award. It would have been like giving Tina Louise a prize for playing Ginger, a role that ruined her career. Even if someone thought she was a great actress, she had played the bad actress too well, and that was all anyone could ever see. And yes, Brad Pitt is beautiful. I still remember the thrill of seeing him in Legends of the Fall. I fell in love with him a little as he rode by on horseback. I remember an interview, way back when, ( I think after "Seven Years in Tibet") he said he kept his life in perspective by reminding himself that he was "a man who wore makeup for a living." It was something like that, anyway. I think I ran into him once, in a Starbucks in downtown Austin. He found it humorous to see my jaw drop open in slow motion.

  110. Great writing, but magnificent Illustration. Only one quibble: the Leaf needs to be much Larger. Just saying.

  111. Johnny Suede Johnny Suede Johnny Suede

  112. I've long believed that Pitt is underrated as an actor. He can most certainly play against his kouros-like beauty as he did in "12 Monkeys," a hilarious turn as a gonzo mental patient. Once I saw both "Ad Astra" and "Once Upon a Time..." last summer, it seemed obvious that this would be Pitt's year to win some serious gongs.

  113. “...the dudes who flock to the fight club, hysterical...”. Zing! Good one, Ms. Dargis.

  114. I think the writer is correct in saying Mr. Pitt's acting has been undervalued. He's an outstanding actor. There's much to be said about instinctive understatement in acting and Mr. Pitt isn't one for overacting, which we see so much of today. His career has been overshadowed by his beauty, masculinity and his private life. It's a shame, but these days, as we build up a star in the media, we're also tearing them down with gossip. He's paid a very dear price for his career and no matter how much we opine about his beauty or wealth, we can't forget to acknowledge his acting craftsmanship. It's obvious in each role he accepts, how much thought and effort goes into shaping his character. He can't change his looks, but he can surmount them with incredible acting chops. He's one of our finest actors.

  115. Front Page is Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur not Rosalind Russell and Cary Grant. Wink wink. The female interest in Fight Club is like Fanny Price in Of Human Bondage. A woman the writer does not know what it is to love as a stand in for the man the writer cannot not love. And female desire for pretty men has never been News. One famous example being Vronsky. Tolstoy didn’t get it but Anna did. Also not news is how some turn whatever they are attracted to in life into a seminar topic in their own little seminar that never changes. Pitt is a worker who works. The end. Sometimes The Work works. Sometimes not. It gives me more sympathy for what Quentin is up against. Even though his female characters have the interior monologue of a switched off robot, and his males not much more other than scratching themselves and fighting, if he took his critics to heart he would never had made a movie anyone could sit through.

  116. What’s not to like about Brad Pitt? His charisma exudes in every role. At this point in his career he’s become a fine producer making interesting choices. I agree he has wonderful comedic timing. But the game changer for me was far from the California sun kissed good natured stereotype. The Tree of Life directed by Terrence Malick.

  117. I'm a straight man with no interest in the chests of other men, and I've dug Pitt since his "True Romance" stoner, followed by Tyler Durden up to "Once Upon A Time In Hollywood" despite its gratuitous shirtless rooftop scene. I did recently hear a female friend talk about wanting to see that movie just for that scene, so I guess it's important to some. But not to me. I'll go see something if he's in it because he's always interesting to watch and listen to.

  118. I admire actors who don't think they are too big to play small parts in good movies. I would watch him in anything.....

  119. @Carol Smith yeah.... but doesn't the presence of big stars or superior actors often overshadows other acting and affect the focus of the story line? I never forget "awestruck" feeling when I first saw the statue of David in Florence. So, this statue of Brad is a little letdown to me.

  120. @Carol Smith He's hilarious in 'Burn After Reading' - after watching him embody - with absolutely no self-consciousness - a beautiful idiot, I knew he would be game for anything and be fantastic at it

  121. This is quite the homage to Brad as actor and beauty king. I've enjoyed his work in many movies -- but never given thought to how much he -- and others -- might suffer as a result of being overly gorgeous, their suave beauty muting their talent. (My wife says I'm in safe territory here myself.) On one level, it's about time someone bring talent-over-surface to the fore for men. Yet, I'm wondering if the praise here is over-wrought. If Brad himself is suffering, which is possible, I'd be more worried (a little anyway). But celebrity, the movies, and the celebrity-worshipping public adore beauty -- and humankind has been in love with it since that woman rose up out of the clam shell thing. As an aged guy now, it's socially difficult to praise the physical beauty of about any woman, without feeling guilty -- but I can see beauty in many women, in Brad Pitt and other cool guys, in poetry, in nature, in art, in the 2020 Corvette, and a lot of other things. My point is, maybe let's celebrate Brad's talent first, his beauty second -- but mostly, the beauty in anything and everything anybody possibly can see. Goodness knows, the times need a lot more beauty anywhere we can find it.

  122. @SGK I don't feel this piece is about Brad Pitt "suffering" because of his beauty, but about how his beauty impacts the way an audience and our (U.S.) cultural as a whole treats him. That People quote is... wow. I do think the reviewer misses a crucial point in Fight Club about how Brad Pitt, gorgeous as he is/was, is set against an even "prettier" man -- a young Jared Leto, 26 in the movie, who's character is 'Angel Face'. Pitt's character mangles Leto's character's face in a beating, saying that he wanted to destroy something beautiful (rough quote). If that's not a comment on cultural tension with masculine beauty, I don't know what is.

  123. @SGK: In college I briefly dated a stunningly attractive woman, a six-foot-tall Scandinavian goddess who silenced a crowded room by the mere act of entering it. Several times she described the loneliness of beauty, the difficulty of forming close relationships because of her physical appearance. Self-confident and cocky guys considered her a conquest; sensitive guys thought they didn't stand a chance. I experienced this only second hand, in the form of sly and approving nods and smiles from guys I didn't even know, as if she were a trophy. It was heartbreaking, really. She was a kind, very bright and introspective person who struggled with being objectified and stereotyped. I was thankful to be just a decent-looking young man, athletic and fit, but nothing too special. That gave me a lot of freedom.

  124. Thanks for your comments. With age one finds comfort in beauty whether in nature or humans. Now I describe looking at handsome men as “art appreciation” but I have also learned the value of goodness in men overall. WhenI saw Brad looking out of his car window in Once Upon A Time all I could think is “Wow” and roll my mind back to the Thelma scene when he jumped out of the screen as a star.

  125. One gets the sense that despite his talent and beauty, he generally doesn't take himself too seriously, if he can avoid it...angels can fly because they take things lightly. I suspect it is a personality thing, in addition to talent and beauty. Flow is a great word for it. Very few of us are that self-confident.

  126. @Michele Underhill Brad Pitt recently admitted he had such a long term drinking problem he "revoked his own drinking privileges." He has admitted to smoking so much pot he disappeared in one decade in a haze. Been married 2 or 3 times. In other words, lower your hormones and recognize he's a regular guy like the rest of us with the same regrets and anxiety who happens to be in a pretty package. I like him a lot, a lot, professionally and personally, but he's a mere mortal despite the film reviewers hyper-ventilating.

  127. @Michele Underhill , Actually, it"s angels can fly because they take*themselves* lightly. a crucial distinction.

  128. @AG Sure, he's got a great physique, but it takes more than that for me to get googly-eyed over a man. (And I *am* heterosexual.) Pitt's probably a decent, personable fellow, but I've never understood the over-the-top adulation.

  129. i saw a george clooney interview a number of years ago when he was asked how he handled fame and crowds. he said, this is close to verbatim, 'if it gets too crazy, i'll point in the distance and say, "hey look. there's brad pitt"! they all run away and i leave"'

  130. @brupic That was a good laugh!!

  131. @brupic That's like what Dustin Hoffman said he does if he wants a good table at a restaurant. He says he's Al Pacino.

  132. @JL i burst out laughing when i saw the interview.

  133. Once upon a Time in Hollywood.....I'm from the Bronx but tip my hat to Tarantino for LA,Hollywood showcase but Pitt was masterful as Cliff. Underplayed coolness beyond perfection walking through life and taking it as it comes. Does not get any better. Please give him his due. Best supporting actor OSCAR.

  134. @Richard Spiro -- I concur. Watch Pitt in two great movies to get a taste of his versatility -- Tarantino's 'Inglorious Basterds' and the Coen Bros' 'Burn After Reading' -- the two roles couldn't be more dissimilar, and he is Outstanding in both. A Treasure, this man is.

  135. @Richard Spiro i'm still trying to understand why he isn't up for best actor - much more memorable than leo and felt like more screentime too

  136. I worked for a year in one of our country’s most renowned drama school. Many of the students, male and female, were very beautiful. All were also very gifted actors. The school has something like a one percent admissions rate, no joke. Some became big stars, others did not. But yes, one can be beautiful AND supremely talented.

  137. As an extremely talented and beautiful person myself, I concur!

  138. @Stephanie i've always thought you were just eye candy....obviously i was wrong.

  139. @BC That's the beauty of Hollywood and Fame in this current era -- talent has never mattered so much. The public can so quickly react or reward.

  140. Hum? What happens in another few years when the physique begins to “sag”, which is inevitably part of life. Maybe critiques of his acting will take on a new dimension since the body will no longer be the focus. Let’s hope that he will be as good an actor as Cary Grant and Paul Newman late in their careers. They still had magnetic appeal.

  141. @Jersey girl, did you read the article? The point is that he IS a terrific actor, like Grant and Newman before him, and remains appealing physically.

  142. It is articles like this that make the New York Times important, despite all its very obvious failings. This article opens up to the public that men and women share experiences at a time when the general trend is division. Seeing how being something many of us daydream about can actually hold you back is so revealing. I also love the way Ms. Dargis puts things in historical perspective. The article is why I look forward to the publication every day. Thank you.

  143. Brad Pitt as "Floyd the roommate" in True Romance brought it home for me. You could sense the joy, humor and willingness of Brad Pitt to just be in a great movie and do what needs to be done to make it great. I'm loving how he's aging in the insane world of Hollywood and appreciate him more than I ever did.

  144. Escaping from reality is nice, but most do it to their detriment. We have many real problems and Hollywood is simply a distraction for those who don't want to face the truth. There is not even any truth in the films and TV shows, they all just pander to a childish set of beliefs. It may be entertaining, but it doesn't really help in any way except to allow people to ignore reality for a while. Humans are going in to a time of great turmoil and suffering. Perhaps more people need to pay attention to the details of reality.

  145. I feel sorry for you, that you take no pleasure in popular entertainment. You are also wrong when you say there is no truth in any of the shows, probably because you haven’t seen any. You probably don’t like popular music either. Quoting a couple of great pop composers, “What a drag it is to be you.”

  146. Watch Sullivan’s Travels. Think about the Golden Age of 1930s movies and screwball comedies that helped people endure the Depression and world wars. You may not need a good laugh or a momentary break from bleakness, but stories have given comfort, humor, inspiration, and hope for millennia in all formats.

  147. Taste is a slippery slope. It’s easy for people like the commenter we both replied to, to look down on low brow entertainment and make cliched statements about people sedating themselves with it when they should be doing something serious. But it’s nonsense and myopic. They’re not the arbiter of what is art and what is trash. Times may seem hard, but they are not harder or bleaker than any other time in human history. We’re all living and learning and a lot of us need a laugh or cry provoked by something containable rather than the enormity of “real life.” The Greeks and other ancient cultures told stories for catharsis and because people connect through them, they engage empathy, and sometimes a laugh over something silly can keep you going.

  148. I'm not watching a movie because Brad Pitt takes off his shirt but because he comes off as likable and he can carry the role. Most actors are simply being themselves placed in the role of a character. Pitt is fun to watch onscreen. I couldn't care less if he was shirtless.

  149. Amen. Pretty actors have a tough time getting cred. Look at Leo. Newman. Clooney. Kidman. et al. And he should have won for Babel.

  150. @Roy Oh yes, Babel.

  151. i finally appreciated pitt's genius in, of all things, ocean's 11. his comic timing was impeccable, and he conveyed more with a look than i've seen many an oscar winner do in a weightier film.

  152. Plus, he’s got great comic timing. Check out his acceptance speeches (also well constructed) at SAG and Golden Globes this year.

  153. He’s always been beautiful, as have so many in Hollywood. But he also displays a willingness to be a good guy, a good person, to do the right thing, in life and in the roles he chooses. His talent has developed over the years. He is no longer just a pretty face but an actor who tries to offer substance and meaning in his characters. Glad he has lasted and is aging “beautifully.”

  154. No mention of Meet Joe Black, which Anthony Lane called the most underrated film of the year (1998), so I broke down and saw it. Pitt carries the film. I began to think he was a great actor then.

  155. Wonderfully written, highly perceptive article, that wishes to break through the gloss and to clarify and correct our wayward, hackneyed, mistaken ideas about masculinity. Congratulations!

  156. Hard to think of another one on his level that can get us to hear him, not just see him. Ever notice how he fills the lens in every scene. Doesn’t always matter what he’s saying or conveying. Legit movie star. Look up the photo of him wearing a name tag at this year’s Oscars luncheon. If that’s not who he truly is, then there’s nothing left to know. He’s held on this long; I hope there are many many more films and projects ahead.

  157. It used to be beauty and skill as in Brando, Dean, Clift. I miss those days.

  158. I stopped reading about the Academy Awards after they gave Eddie Redmayne (a second rate actor) the best actor award. Brad Pitt's in a group that includes Peter O'Toole, Ian McKellan, Ralph Fiennes, Joaquin Phoenix, Charlie Chaplin, Robert Redford, Peter Sellers, Richard Burton, Orson Welles, Steve McQueen, Max von Sydow, Montgomery Clift, Marcello Mastroianni, and on and on.

  159. Brad Pitt may have faced some of the same “pretty face” issues as Paul Newman, but Brad Pitt is no Paul Newman.

  160. @Baba No he isn't. But he's as good an actor. The fact that he i "no Paul Newman" is moot.

  161. I was scrolling through the cable channels days ago and came upon Troy. Brad Pitt plays Achilles. He is indeed mesmerizingly beautiful and I am not even attracted to blonde men in general. But he also has a face which is serious. And he does move very gracefully. One cannot keep one's eyes elsewhere when he is on the screen.

  162. I remember seeing 12 Monkeys and thinking this guy can act. He stole the show. Easy on the eye too.

  163. Pitt, Newman and Redford, the three amigos. Have always admired them all as actors and just plain good men. Pretty good role models.

  164. How would you explain Warren Beatty?

  165. Oddly, and after being brought back to shore by Manohla Dargis with her fine profile of Brad Pitt (an unfortunate last name), this viewer of the awakening of 'Thelma and Louise' was the victim of a memory glitch having failed to envision Brad Pitt as a rising star in the above ground-breaking Hollywood creation. To the honest, he restored embers of romance in his Achilles performance of 'Troy'. Male beauty with a heart, for this movie watcher, would be Gregory Peck, who confessed in a documentary that in youth, he was deliberating the priesthood - a swooning of nuns and female soldiers might have taken place. Forwarding this latest feature of a resilient movie reviewer to a relentless admirer of Robert Redford, and to another friend, highly appreciative of 'Once Upon a Time in Hollywood', which might help to make their day sunnier on their adventurous road to the Oscar nominations.

  166. @Miss Ley, how interesting. I've never once thought that his name is unfortunate.

  167. @Susan BK, All the better, since this viewer cropped a line from Robin Williams's wonderful performance in the Oscar-winning award for Dead Poets Society.

  168. You missed the thing we love most about Brad Pitt: his sense of humor.

  169. One of the reasons that Pitt feels so confident ‘moving through the world’ is not his beauty but his physical fitness. Writing that off as a given discredits Pitt’s work on his body as much as it discounts his acting because of his pretty face.

  170. Brad Pitt is a reliable actor and has improved with age, but I'm sorry. I'm not going to feel outraged that he's allegedly faced a double standard or believe that he's some sort of superstar artist about masculinity, whatever that means. Can't we leave some of these cliches-overused tropes on the editing table?

  171. In other words, Brad Pitt is a very good actor who is very good looking.

  172. I have been saying this since I saw Pitt in Babel.

  173. I think Brad Pitt's work has always been valued, by audiences and critics alike. It's true his looks have made him the coverboy that he is, but I don't think it's negatively affected his career. He's had great roles for thirty years. Btw, can I dare to say what I've said before to shocked and gasping coworkers and friends? I don't get the Brad Pitt thing. Is he handsome? Of course. Is he so much more handsome or attractive than all the other leading men? I have never thought so. I wonder sometimes if I speak for the silent majority.

  174. Hollywood likes female beauty but has given good-looking male actors the cold shoulder. Brad Pitt is a prime case in point. Tom Cruise is another. Keanu a third. It’s a shame. Brad Pitt has done outstanding work for decades. Hollywood has been shooting itself in the foot, showing what a sham its awards criteria is, by ignoring him.

  175. This reminds me of a very beautiful woman lawyer I knew years ago. Men would stop talking and stare when she walked into the room. When I knew her well, I asked, “Does it hurt your career that you are so beautiful?” “Not at all,” she replied. “While they are adjusting their ties, I just walk up and stick them with a shiv.” That is Brad Pitt.

  176. He's the Mensch! In today's America he'd be president if only he'd enter the race.

  177. These are an awful lot of words to talk about a phenomenon that has been happening to actresses since the dawn of movies.

  178. "Like Newman..." One of the best paragraphs I have read in my life. However. Horrible actor. States in his recent interview with Anthony Hopkins - I'm famously not a 'crier' - what he meant is 'actor.' Chews scenery (prop food) in nearly every movie to distract from is overwhelming vapidity.

  179. great article! Thanks!

  180. Einstein's beauty came from the exceptionalism of his brain. Who will remember Brad Pitt's masterful beauty one hundred years from now? We know Einstein's, Da Vinci's, Rembrandt's and many others' beauties.

  181. We will remember his humanity and fine acting.

  182. I would totally do him based on his acting

  183. I 'fell in love' with Brad Pitt when I first saw him in some jeans ad. As a teen I was glued to my TV whenever it popped up. 30+ years later I still have a soft spot for him - and i am so glad the man is a terrific actor and graces our screens with his talent and beauty on a regular basis. A gem. I adore him. Nice tribute.

  184. The difference between beautiful men and beautiful women in Hollywood, is that the men are allowed to age out of youthful beauty and still find work. Women, not so much. If they're not Meryl Streep, who is beautiful in her own way, but not in a Hollywood kind of way, they have to undergo plastic surgery, which then becomes a topic of discussion and mockery. Redford--a real product of LA, since he was born and reared there--worked until he decided not to; so did Clooney, who has found other things to do. I'd argue that he is not so much beautiful, but drop dead handsome. Not that it matters.

  185. I was ho-hum about Brad Pitt's acting until I watched "Fury." That's when I felt the full force of his movie star perfection. He'll only get better as he gets older!

  186. For me it started with "A River Runs Through It" I've been a huge fan ever since. The guy can act and he tries to pick worthy projects. And great projects from Plan B too. I mean come on! How do you not love Brad Pitt?

  187. always said he was underrated as an actor )

  188. I’ve watched many, many films over the course of my life but two scenes remain indelibly engraved in my brain: Robert Redford in bed with Barbra Streisand in The Way We Were, and Brad Pitt in bed with Gina Davis in Thelma and Louise. Who’s with me here?

  189. Thelma and Louise - classic Pitt. Burn after reading second best. Inglorious bastards third (despite his badly faked accent)

  190. I'd give Pitt the Supporting Actor Oscar just for the way he easily two-hopped onto DiCaprio's roof to fix his antenna in "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood." That moment embodied "stunt man."

  191. @samludu | As I watched Pitt last summer in 'Once Upon a Time', I got the impression that his distinct air of indifferent nonchalance was a product of being ticked off because either - he hadn't gotten DiCaprio's role or that he'd gotten into a personality conflict with DiCap, or Tarantula (sic), or both.

  192. Interesting and well written. One Brad Pitt movie not mentioned is "A River Runs Through It" in which Robert Redford massages Pitt. Or was it the other way around?

  193. This article seems like even more objectification of Mr. Pitt. He is too "pretty" for my taste but I think he is a fine actor. I wish I could see him in more comedy roles.

  194. It's interesting to consider Brad Pitt's value in relation to his income. Sometimes it's about respect from peers, but I'd say Mr. Pitt has been justly rewarded for his work. Certainly better than women who act (of equal beauty and talent).

  195. I skipped Thelma and Louise when it first came out (didn't interest 13 y/o me all that much) so my first introduction to Pitt was as Floyd in True Romance. His scenes with Michael Rappaport and James Gandolfini were pure gold and he was one of the most memorable, hilarious, and enjoyable parts (all in about 2 minutes of screen time) of a very good movie that had each in spades. Was also a decidedly unglamorous role, to say the least.

  196. I was riding in a car and we drove by Brad Pitt in NYC going about 25 miles an hour. I saw him for a split second and I said, "Pull over, that's Brad Pitt." My brother, who was driving, guffawed, "How could you even tell?" We pulled into a parking lot and parked perpendicular to the sidewalk. Sure enough, Brad Pitt walks by, glancing at our car. My sister and I did the worst thing, we ran out, ran toward him, and were silent. We were so weird! He took out his cell phone to make a call, and we joked that he was calling Jennifer to end it because he'd just met the love of his life (we didn't elaborate on which of us was the true love, wasn't worth it). Anyway, I cannot imagine what it would be like to look like Brad Pitt. It definitely must have it's equal share of benefits and downsides. He is not handsome, it's honestly something else. He is not of this world when it comes to beauty. I saw Julia Roberts once too and she is the same. I actually thought she was homeless first because she was dressed so terribly but then I saw her laugh and I was mesmerized. I suspect she dressed in a way that she hoped was less noticeable, but she was effervescent. I honestly wouldn't want that burden (and to have to age with that must be a truly do a number on your mind). Brad Pitt is extraordinary, both in beauty and acting. It makes me think of Bill Murry saying "People always tell me they want to be rich and famous. I always tell them, 'Try Rich First."

  197. About 10 years ago, I wrote a piece about the rare mainstream movie scenes designed to spark straight female desire. (Although things slowly evolve, most are still aimed at sparking straight male desire). Of the bedroom scene in "Thelma & Louise," I noted that the slow caressing camera movement down Pitt's torso is one of the few times in movies that we see the female gaze accurately represented. (The camera mimics Thelma's lustful, awed appraisal of JD at the foot of her bed just before they begin to make love.) Notable since the male gaze is so ubiquitous that we rarely even notice it but just experience it as what movies are. Pitt has had a rare willingness among male stars to take what's usually a female position: to be the object and not the subject in the movies he makes. I think that's a large part of what makes him so appealing to women, but perhaps why his acting talent has been undervalued by many, especially the powerful straight men in Hollywood. I think his literal nakedness and vulnerability on screen makes them deeply uncomfortable. Not to mention the issue of jealousy. As Dustin Hoffman once famously said, "Next to that kid, we all look like onions."

  198. Your comments are so interesting. Thank you.

  199. @Nelle Engoron best comment yet. Agree 100%- that scene is sexy because it represents the female gaze. And HE’s sexy because he doesn’t mind being the object in movies.

  200. @Nelle Engoron Excellent take on his appeal. He embodies a strange mix of confidence and vulnerability; as some have said, a little like Paul Newman. It's sort of like they're thinking, I know I look like I've got it made, but also know how ephemeral that is for anybody, and that the joke may be on them.

  201. Thanks for the article. I agree, Brad scares everybody to like or even approve of him. He is a consummate artist, and he practices his art with the utmost care, and tireless work. And why shouldn't he be approved by his peers (ummm, that is a wrong word there are very few of his peers) I meant folks who also practices the art.

  202. Though not the focus of this article I cannot help but add that Mr. Pitt has also been a welcome presence with his production company Plan B Entertainment which has produced such vital films as "Moonlight", "Twelve Years a Slave", "Last Black Man in San Francisco", etc. For this, he also has my admiration.

  203. People looking at beautiful movie stars is not new. However now there are more means to remain beautiful longer.

  204. He was good in "A River Runs Through It," but in Tarantino's film I would say Margo Robbie, who is extremely beautiful, comes across as the better actor. Beauty does inform how you think about and judge an actor for sure, but some beautiful actors seem to just be good actors as well and are able to escape some of the beauty curse a bit more easily. Brad Pitt often seems to be playing the same good looking guy with the same swagger, which is probably because this is often what he is cast as. Would be interesting to see him in a role where his looks are disguised, like Charlize Theron in "Monster."

  205. @Anonymous The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.

  206. The writing of Manohla Dargis always speaks to me.

  207. That's quite a love letter, Manohla!

  208. The article fails to mention, and people may forget because the movie was a dud in the box office, that in Meet Joe Black, Pitt is wonderful, and so insanely handsome that it was hard to look right at him during the movie.

  209. Thank you for this piece and for giving Mr. Pitt his due. Long over due, I’d say. Good on him.

  210. Exceptionally good male actors have always had trouble being taken seriously by producers and the public. Aside from Newman and Redford, there was Tyrone Power, Cornel Wilde, Cary Grant, Robert Mitchum, Gary Cooper ... many, many more.

  211. If the work is good, it speaks for itself, you don't need PR via NYT article.

  212. That man is breathtakingly beautiful. The only blonde man I’ve ever loved. Btw: he’s a fantasy actor as well.