I have just finished watching True Romance. As an early example of Tarantino it's not bad. Razor sharp dialogue, memorable performances beyond those of Christian Slater and Rosanna Arquette from a true ensemble cast. Christopher Walken, Dennis Hopper, James Galdolfini, Gary Oldman, Samuel L Jackson (who gets shot in the first ten minutes) all feature, but I have chosen to single out Brad Pitt as a topic of debate. Before people say anything let me give you my reasons why the others are not in the frame.
Let's start with Gandolfini. Other critics, reviewers, writers, call them what you will, have said that his role in 'True Romance' was essentially a blueprint for Tony Soprano, who Gandolfini went on to play for something silly like eight seasons. I don't know the exact number because honestly it never interested me. Of the myriad episodes which aired I watched maybe two and those by accident. My aim here is not to diminish Gandolfini's contribution to popular culture, or undermine his ability but merely to illustrate my point. Apart from 'The Soprano's', 'True Romance' and turning up in a film called 'In The Loop', itself a film version of political satire 'In The Thick of It' which was very funny, my knowledge on Gandolfini is limited. Solid actor but not a large enough body of work and for this reason his presence will forever on the periphery of discussions.
Walken on the other hand is quite the opposite. His body of work is so extensive that I am not prepared at this point to tackle it. We are not talking 'Lord of The Rings' level of planning, but we are in the realms of real research. Walken deserves that much and as I discovered a few weeks ago when boldly attempting to recall his films from memory, my grey matter failed to get me into double digits. Hopper is similar to Walken but his filmography is not quite the same. With Hopper less is more. Coming to prominence in the late sixties and associated with Jack Nicholson and Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper was the linchpin and potential launch pad for a counterculture of independent films. He wrote or co-wrote 'Easy Rider' helping set Nicholson on the road to 'Carnal Knowledge', 'Five Easy Pieces', 'The Last Detail' and of course 'Cuckoo's Nest'. There is only about five years between Hopper and Walken in terms of their big break. 'Easy Rider' was 1969 I think, while Walken's came as I have mentioned before, in 'Annie Hall' playing Annie's slightly unhinged brother in a five or ten minute cameo. Hopper was a gifted actor with an addictive personality that manifested itself through his overindulgence in narcotics. Insights and examples of this are documented in Peter Biskind's book 'Easy Riders, Raging Bulls' where Hopper's ex-wife was interviewed. He asked her why when they divorced she did not ask for any money; Hopper had just received payments for 'Easy Rider' and was briefly very solvent. Her reply was simple; she didn't want Dennis coming after her with a shotgun. As a reflection of his behaviour and by extension the amount of drugs he was clearly consuming at the time, this example is conclusive proof of a man on the edge. However both these actors deserve more than one half of an extended paragraph so you'll excuse me if I move on.
Both Gary Oldman and Samuel L Jackson are best compared simultaneously. Around the time 'True Romance' was released these men were on the cusp of stardom. A year later in 1994 Jackson would almost win Best Supporting Actor for his role of Jules in Pulp Fiction, while Oldman starred in 'Dracula', 'Leon', 'The Fifth Element' and 'Beloved' to name a few. Some twenty years later both are now part of acting royalty. Oldman and Jackson respectively are able to add gravitas to any film merely by association. They have currency which may not get the film green lit but is an assurance of quality to audiences. Even on the rare occasions when the material is not top quality, 'Hannibal' is my prime example for Oldman, while Jackson's would be 'Snakes on A Plane', they are able to come out smelling of roses when lesser actors would end up tarnished or type cast. Before the crying over 'Snakes' begins pause for a second. Yes the script was tongue in cheek, yes the effects were Bmovie fare, yes I know that was the point, but if anyone else and I do mean anyone else had delivered the line, 'I'm sick and tired of all these motherfucking snakes on this motherfucking plane' would you have bothered to watch let alone enjoy it; your answer if your honest with yourself would be no. Now I know that 'True Romance' was headlined by Christian Slater and Rosanna Arquette but to what extent could they be said to carry the film. Essentially Slater is doing a rehash of 'Heathers' with a slightly wilder streak and obviously less high school carnage. My problem with Slater is he does the same thing in every film.
When he first came to prominence for a film I can't remember there was tremendous fuss, as there is for any young actor who shows promise; at the moment it’s Tom Hardy. That I can only remember three of his films, or films he was in is a concern. 'Heathers' is one, where he plays a cool, mysterious high school dropout of sorts opposite the real star Winona Ryder; another sorry case who only recently redeemed herself by turning up as Spok's mother in the remake, before being vaporised when Vulcan got blown up. Interestingly Ben Cross plays Spok's father. For anyone old enough the name will mean something, others will just be left scratching their heads. Ben Cross played Harold Abrahams in 'Chariots of Fire'.
Number two is 'Broken Arrow' where he plays opposite John Travolta, a man who has denied allegations by his co-pilot of sexual harassment, even though the man went into way to much detail about certain things which appear to go beyond a pat on the backside. Anyway the third one is a cameo which Slater did in place of River Phoenix, another casualty of drugs, who died of an overdose outside a place called 'The Viper Room' in Los Angeles just before 'Interview with a Vampire' went into production. He donated his fee to a trust set up in Phoenix’s honour and played opposite Brad Pitt for the second time. How roles could have reversed so quickly between the two in such a short space of time is up for debate.
'Thelma and Louise' where Pitt first turns up outside of television soap operas served as his big break. Playing nothing more than eye candy for ladies of a certain age he put in a reasonable performance, before playing a stoner called Floyd in 'True Romance'. For years people have been reluctant to admit that Brad Pitt could act let alone had any range. With examples like 'Legends of the Fall' where he played rugged eye candy or 'A River Runs Through It' which basically required him to look pretty and fly fish whilst donning a fedora these rumours appeared to be justified.
Even with 'Kalifornia' opposite Juliette Lewis, where Pitt attempts to go ugly using a huge beard, thick southern accent, dirty clothes and poor personal hygiene you got the impression he was trying too hard.
Around the time of ‘Legends’ his life changed as worldwide fame and recognition hit and Pitt became a sex symbol. Subsequent retrospective interviews have implied a certain resentment to this sudden fame and adulation. These feelings were voiced again during the promotion for 'Moneyball'. When asked about his reaction to people wanting pictures with him, Pitt said that clearly these people lacked something in their own lives and felt he somehow filled that void; which he sadly said was not the case. My thoughts on this statement should change the way I view the man. It is symptomatic of biting the hand that feeds in my opinion and something which ultimately he signed up for. By categorising those that have helped create the demand for your product as empty and by extension delusional, is slightly hypocritical and you would expect better. Pitt is amongst only five actors, male or female, who can get a film green lit just by showing an interest. Something which is as much down to David Fincher as it is to Pitt himself.
There are three films which have helped make Brad Pitt a star and they were all directed by one man. David Fincher came out of music videos, was given seventy million dollars, a star in Sigourney Weaver, but no working script, little control and went into Alien three wearing the directing equivalent of a straight jacket. He did not make anything else for five years or more. I have just had a discussion with my good lady. We can not decide whether 'Seven' or 'Fight Club' came first. For this reason I am going to disregard the order because to be honest thats not the important.
'Seven' served as a resurrection for Fincher and a realisation for anyone who had not guessed already that Brad Pitt could indeed act. Written by Andrew Kevin Walker when he was working in Tower Records and feeling a little depressed, it charts seven murders which all depict in some way elements of the seven deadly sins. Morgan Freeman co-stars with Pitt as Detective Somerset, a role which he reprised in 'Kiss the Girls' with Ashley Judd. 'Seven' is dark, graphic, seedy, intelligent and hides an ace up its sleeve in Kevin Spacey. When the script was originally sent out Pitt got the one containing a downbeat ending, which is the only reason Paltrow's head in a box made it to the screen. Such was his power even then, that Pitt insisted the movie be made in that form or not at all. He won out and it is a rare example of an unhappy ending in a Hollywood film. Then there is 'Fight Club' a film which has little to do with bare knuckle boxing. Yes there is fighting in it, yes people do get hit repeatedly until they tap out, but ultimately it stands for, in my opinion, something altogether different. 'Fight Club' is essentially a statement on how social status, material goods and monetary wealth were and still are coming to define how people behave and what they think. On another level it is also about the fight for identity. At the time Pitt was the pin up for most teenager girls, women in their twenties, thirties and probably some men as well. Fincher essentially projected this image up on screen with chiselled features, abs, the whole nine yards, using Edward Norton's skinny pale frame as a counterpoint. From a psychological point of view Pitt exemplifies social and physical perfection, as seen through the eyes of Norton's character. In the final moments when the financial institutions collapse Norton manages to kill this idea of perfection by shooting himself. A clumsy interpretation would be that Pitt's death at the end would be the beginning of a classless society free from the constraints of social expectation. At the time of release Pitt was quoted as saying that this would be the most important film he would ever do. That of course remains to be seen. Fincher would go on to do 'Panic Room' with Jodie Foster; Pitt would do 'Ocean's Eleven, Twelve and Thirteen' as well as a few others besides, before both would come back together for 'The Curious Case of Benjamin Button'. Based on a short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald where a man is born and ages backwards, it allowed one actor to play a character throughout their life for the first time, due to groundbreaking special effects. It was a strange choice for Fincher if not so much for Pitt. Starring opposite Cate Blanchett you watch as the performance which is given by Pitt changes ever so slightly with the advancing years. Fincher displays a similar lightness of touch which up until that point seemed beyond him, whilst demonstrating Pitt’s ability to anchor a film, even when the premise itself was beyond belief. With the use of computers Fincher transports Pitt back to his teens in the film's latter stages, both amazing and tragic to behold. From that point on and with the meeting of minds between himself and Angelina Jolie on 'Mr and Mrs Smith', Pitt’s fame was assured. With the release of 'Moneyball' and now 'Killing Them Softly', where he plays a hit man Brad Pitt has become, through intelligent choices, application and a slice or two of luck one of the most marketable stars on the planet.
Fincher has gone on to do 'The Social Network' and 'Girl with the Dragon Tattoo' garnering rave reviews and critical acclaim. In truth I have no pithy comment to round off this post, no put down or clever way to tie things together. I just keep going back to that comment he made about the way he sees his fans. A similar question was asked of lead singer Jon Bon Jovi by all accounts a very arrogant man. When asked what he thought about during a concert, bearing in mind that Richie Sambora had already said the fans, Bon Jovi replied 'what I'm having for dinner tonight'. I hope you get the point.