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Faces of Death: Brad Pitt

Brad Pitt sure does die a lot in his films.

The portrayal of death can make or break a film. In this new feature, we’ll be taking a look at actors who bite the dust over and over again onscreen. Not all deaths are equal. Case in point: Brad Pitt.

coolworld1The Only Time Sex After Death Is Okay: Cool World

In a sloppy, frenetic mess of a film, Brad Pitt’s Frank Harris functions largely as the calm at the eye of the storm. Having inexplicably found himself in the animated Cool World, Harris has become a detective set on preventing “doodles” and “noids” from fraternizing, lest something disastrous occur. Said disaster ultimately does occur, but not until after Harris has found himself unable to do the one thing he desperately wants with his animated ingénue, Lonette. With all hell breaking loose back in the real world following the comingling of doodle and noid parts, Harris attempts to set everything straight in both worlds. Struggling to rein in Kim Basinger’s spastically transitioning live action Holly Would, he plummets cartoonishly to his death. Having been a noid killed by a doodle in the real world, Harris finds himself reborn in the Cool World as a doodle, where he is finally able to consummate his relationship. Having survived much of this train wreck of a film, it’s only fair that he finally gets to go at it, even if it means splattering on the pavement in the process. – John Paul

a-river-runs-through-it-brad-pittBest PSA for Gambling-Addicted Fishermen: A River Runs Through It

“Why is it that people who need the most help won’t take it?” So says Jessie Burns, future sister-in-law of Pitt’s fly fishing newspaperman, Paul Maclean. Summing up the character’s fate in a single line, Paul remains largely at the fringes of the action. A somewhat two-dimensional character, he appears occasionally with a potent one-liner or allusion to the gambling problems that lead to the downward spiral of his narrative arc. His death then plays out much in the same manner as his life onscreen: out of sight and recalled by the older brother whose shadow he lived in for much of his life. In a poignant, crushing detail, it’s revealed that all the bones in his right hand—his casting hand, the source of his artistry on the river—had been broken prior to being beaten to death with the butt-end of a revolver. It’s a sad coda to life unfulfilled. – John Paul

Kalifornia (1993)Brad PittLeast Surprising Death of a Serial Killer at the Hands of Someone Writing About Serial Killers: Kalifornia

Playing the broadest possible caricature of Southern incompetence, Pitt’s Early Grayce is a loose cannon, killing largely without reason. Traipsing across the country, he and girlfriend Adele Corners (Juliette Lewis) join a yuppie couple working on a book about famous serial killer locations. Proving you can get too close to your subject matter, the couple find themselves at the mercy of Grayce’s deranged killing spree. In the climactic final standoff, they’re forced to kill Grayce, coming to the somewhat obvious conclusion that theirs was a justifiable homicide while his murders were merely the work of a psychopath. Catching a door, mannequin arm and ultimately a bullet to the face, Pitt’s Grayce proves a clichéd tough kill with several fake-outs. Bloodied and facing death, he revels in the fact that he’s forced others to kill him. It’s a cruel twist that finds the villain going out on top and largely on his own terms. – John Paul

legendsBest Use of a Mulligan by a Grizzly Bear: Legends of the Fall

From the outset, we’re informed that Pitt’s Tristan Ludlow desires death. Early in the film, a young Tristan tempts fate at the hands of a bear. Rather than finding himself mauled to death as he ostensibly hoped, Tristan escapes with both his life and a souvenir from the encounter. The film’s narrator alludes to Tristan having come away with more than just a bloody claw, but also the spirit of the bear that will continue to haunt him. There is a wildness in Tristan throughout the remainder of the film; a reckless tendency that, following the death of his youngest brother in WWI, finds him slowly unraveling. Rather than a quick reprieve from his suffering—both self-imposed and external—Tristan lives long enough to see everyone he loves die, many prematurely and in horrible ways. It isn’t until the film’s closing moments that he is afforded the death he so craved at the hands of a bear. “It was a good death,” we’re told. While that may have been the case, and certainly a long time coming, the death scene itself borders on the absurd. In the final moments, man and beast are seen dramatically tussling in an utterly incongruous slow-motion sequence so bad it casts a pall on the lushness of the preceding cinematography. – John Paul

devilsownBest Swelling Orchestral Score to Remind You to Cry When a Terrorist Dies: The Devil’s Own

A New York police Sergeant (Harrison Ford) takes in an Irish houseguest (Pitt), unaware that the strange man living under the same roof with his wife and three children is really an IRA gunman and champion Irish broguer. This was the last film for director Alan J. Pakula (Klute) and cinematographer Gordon Willis (The Godfather), but it was an inauspicious finale to their distinguished careers. Even Pitt badmouthed it, perhaps aware that his screen demise would not go down as one of his best. The swelling music by James Horner turns in a stronger performance than Pitt, who simply slows down and closes his eyes, letting his elder shed a tear for his killer house guest. – Pat Padua

fightclubMost Ludicrous Imaginary Death of an Imaginary Life: Fight Club

If you were Edward Norton circa 1999, you’d pick Brad Pitt circa 1999 to be your alter ego, too. In director David Fincher’s gory adaptation of the Chuck Palahniuk novel, Pitt plays Tyler Durden, the unnamed narrator’s badass Snuffleupagus. So how do you kill a part of yourself? By putting a gun into your mouth and shooting yourself through the cheek. Incredibly, the narrator survives this, but his bad boy personality doesn’t. Durden may have been just an imaginary friend, but Pitt treats his death literally, letting the weight of his body carry him down—this being Chuck Palahniuk, with attitude, man! – Pat Padua

troyCheesiest Epic Death: Troy

Pitt playing Achilles in the 2004 swords-and-sandals action epic Troy didn’t quite pan out critically, but it made a killing in worldwide box office receipts, even with its exorbitant budget. A brawny, sweat-slicked Pitt slashed and stabbed his way through the film’s bloated 162-minute runtime (or a ridiculous 196 minutes if you watch the director’s cut). So of course the death of the great warrior with the flowing golden mane would serve as the film’s coda. Achilles is the baddest fighter in all the land and he joins the Greeks in battling the easily-duped-by-wooden-horse Trojans. But his fate would hinge on his star-crossed love of Briseis (Rose Byrne), a Trojan priestess of Apollo. After he saves her from a would-be rape, she has the chance to slit his throat while he sleeps but instead decides that, instead, she’ll make love to him (as one does). It’s after he saves her again, this time as Troy is falling, the he gets arrowed in that famous heel of his—and shot by a few (perhaps more realistically lethal) arrows right through the breastplate. Mortally wounded, he’s got just enough time to pull out the chest arrows, whisper some final sweet-nothings to Briseis and collapse with a lone arrow jutting out of his heel. – Josh Goller

jesseBest Death Scene Reenacted by Yogi Bear and Boo-Boo: The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

Director Andrew Dominik’s stylish Western looks at 19th century outlaws through the modern lens of idol worship. Its climactic scene is spare and meta, set in a room barely furnished except for a few chairs and a dusty framed print of a horse. Casey Affleck shoots his famous target in the back while Jesse James dusts off that horse, as if manipulating his future image at the very moment of his death. Pitt plays James as a man resigned to his fate, and as in many of the screen deaths we examine in this feature, he lets gravity do the acting. This was one of the best films of 2007, and it became the subject of one of the best viral videos of 2010 with a parody of the 3D Yogi Bear that was a nearly shot for shot remake of this scene. – Pat Padua

BurnAfterReadingDeath as Physical Evidence Character Indeed Had a Brain: Burn After Reading

For as sudden and shocking as Chad Feldheimer’s death comes off in the Coen brothers’ Burn After Reading, it was long overdue. Pitt’s amply-coiffed, gum-smacking Hardbodies gym employee only had a short career as a novice extortionist. He gets punched in the face by John Malkovich’s disgraced CIA analyst when the vacuous Chad awkwardly tries to squeeze some money out of him, hoping to use the ill-gotten dough to fund co-conspirator Linda’s (Frances McDormand) much-desired cosmetic surgery. But the obnoxiously peppy Chad was in over his head from the start, and it makes sense that he’d get his brains splattered all over the back of a wardrobe by a startled George Clooney. People often die in Coen brothers movies, and usually over “just a little bit of money.” Pitt’s dopey Chad was an obvious choice to get the axe early (even if it was actually Richard Jenkins who, later, would literally take an axe to the dome). The shit-eating grin on Chad’s face before he gets blown away is icing on the cake. – Josh Goller

curious-case-benjamin-buttonMost Adorable Death: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Aging in reverse isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Sure, Pitt’s Benjamin Button may have gotten arthritis, poor vision and the other maladies of old age out of the way early, and he kept looking better with each passing year of middle age. But reverse aging certainly throws a wrench into romantic relationships, as Benjamin finds out when he can only truly express his passion for lifelong love Daisy (Cate Blanchett) when their physically-apparent ages meet in the middle. But death stalks us all, even the reverse-aging. In a parallel to the diminished independence of old age, Benjamin shrinks into a helpless boy. Daisy vows to care for him in those final years, care which is made easier simply by the fact that the 84-year-old baby is so stinking cute. Dead babies almost never yield an “aww” moment in film, but when—cradled in the crook of Daisy’s arm—infant Benjamin closes those sleepy little octogenarian baby eyes for the last time, you just want to pinch his dead little cheeks. – Josh Goller

the-counselor-brad-pittBiggest Bloody Relief After Two Hours of Self-Important Talking: The Counselor

Cormac McCarthy’s novels have been turned into great films like No Country for Old Men. But his first original screenplay, directed by Ridley Scott, was full of pretentious dialogue and unbelievable characters, like a wealthy lawyer (Michael Fassbender) who acts like a rube for most of the film and a drug dealer (Pitt) who we are expected to believe goes around casually using words like “sophomoric.” Maybe he was talking about the script. Pitt’s death is foreshadowed early with the description of a brutally devised wire loop that tightens around your neck until your head pops clean off, and when Pitt meets this fate, it’s not a minute too soon, because that means the movie is almost over. – Pat Padua

fury-brad-poitMost “Shut Up and Give Me More Pigs to Kill” Death: Fury

As he established in Inglourious Basterds, Brad Pitt is in World War II for one thing and one thing only: killing Nazis. But whereas Pitt’s Lt. Aldo Raine not only survived the war, but also got to carve his masterpiece into Christoph Waltz’s head, his Sgt. Don “Wardaddy” Collier isn’t so lucky. Collier has lost himself to the war, his singular focus having achieved the remarkable feat of keeping most of his tank crew alive in hostile territory for three years. When Norman, a new private, is yanked from behind a typewriter and thrust behind a mounted machine gun, Collier gives some tough love while also taking a shine to the kid, largely because he sees in Norman the humanity that he himself has lost. Or something. Fury largely fails at crafting three-dimensional characters or deeper meaning, but damn if it isn’t a thrilling spectacle of World War II bloodshed. When Pitt and co.’s tank hits a landmine that shucks its tread, Pitt refuses to cut and run. Even when the crew runs out of ammo and gradually gets picked off, Pitt keeps slaughtering Nazis (even resorting to a pistol) until they finally shoot him through a few times. In his last moments, he imparts a few last words of wisdom to Norman (and guides him to an escape hatch) before some of the last remaining Nazi pigs drop in a couple stick grenades and give him his own taste of death. – Josh Goller

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