Welcome to a new series here on Cinematical where we select an actor or actress and the role we think is their all time best. Brad Pitt has taken on a myriad of roles over the years. He's fly fished, hunted down sadistic killers, played a romantic devil, dallied in thievery, suffered through pain in his Achilles, and even showed up as the notorious Jesse James. And while he may have earned Oscar nominations for his turn as a mental patient in 12 Monkeys and a backward-aging man in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, his best role lives in cult fandom as the corporation-loathing anarchist Tyler Durden in Fight Club.
I know. It's strange of me to pick this role out of the list especially in light of his time in 12 Monkeys. Fight Club was the film Edward Norton got recognized for not so much Brad Pitt. But it's Durden that always stuck out to me a marked turning point in Pitt's career.
From the very beginning, Pitt's work was rife with reinvention. He started as the clean-cut and cute young actor, from uncredited time as a preppy partygoer in Less Than Zero to shilling Pringles in bubbly '80s commercials. Then his hair grew out a little and he played the seductive J.D. in Thelma & Louise, ushering in a period of grunge and long-haired loverdom. He dated Juliette Lewis, played a trashy ex-con in Kalifornia, and made a name for himself as a rugged heartthrob, balancing vampiric times with Tom Cruise in dramatic period pieces. However, just when the path seemed set, the year 1995 rang in with the back-to-back power of Se7en and Twelve Monkeys. Things were starting to change.
But they really snapped with Fight Club. Having proven himself over an 8-year span, the light turned on. Slight aspects of all his previous and future roles spiraled into one seemingly unstoppable man. Gone was the actor skirting on the edge of stardom. While the adaptation of Chuck Palahniuk's novel was an epic film of all things cult rather than a mainstream wonder, Pitt's career was never the same. Soon came the likes of being Julia Roberts' leading man, a Spy Game, and a lead in the celeb-fest known as Ocean's Eleven. Goodbye, man skirting the edges of true superstardom, hello epic starring roles and a romantic life squarely in the public eye.
But back to Tyler Durden. Superficially, he was the man who made even a shirt covered in maple leaves look cool, intermingling questionable wardrobes and ridiculousness with toughness, insanity, and a chiseled powerhouse of a body. Pitt danced between the most ridiculous whimsy from musing about fighting Hemingway to being the unstoppable force of anti-establishment anger. He was the vehicle for The Narrator's release of pent up aggression, confusion, and personality. Durden swam in and out of these extremes, always seeming perfectly at home and always making them seem perfectly sensible, even if they were utterly crazy. Purely natural chaos that builds from a blip of a release to uncontrollable mayhem.
It's not hard to imagine other people playing Jeffrey Goines or Benjamin Button, the performances being solid while also the sort of fare that many men could take on. But Tyler Durden was, and will always be, Brad Pitt. There's no one who could have pulled it off with the same magic and fervor.