Brad Pitt Proves Twice This Year That Some Movies Are Still Worth a Trip to the Theater
Brad Pitt‘s film career has been unparalleled. He has portrayed everything from a mentally disturbed soap maker to the man who changed baseball. It seems the older this guy gets (but seemingly doesn’t age), the more reliable his films have become as a source of quality entertainment. This year has only reinforced that statement, bringing people all across the globe to popcorn-encrusted floors, sticky seats, and 50-foot screens. The man’s a movie star, like Robert Redford and Clark Gable before him. In an age of touchscreens and streaming, it has become increasingly difficult to find a star whose films are worth that trip to the theater. Here are some ways Pitt’s latest features, Ad Astra and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (in which both of his characters are named Cliff), prove some movies still are.
Photo: Sony Pictures Entertainment & Twentieth Century Fox
Before you watch: RANKED! The Tastiest Movie Theater Snacks You Can Treat Yourself to
His films immerse you in another time.
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is a love letter to the golden age of Hollywood. Before the intense influx of technology that has everyone drowning in a toilet of their deceased attention span, it was all pulpy scripts, cheesy stunts, and good times. That was enough to entertain people; they hit up the local cinema with their spare change and forgot about the space race, the Cold War, and the hippie next door. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood takes a disconnected generation and throws them into an era they know nothing about (without the use of CGI, swords or chosen ones).
The jokes are better with an audience.
One of the best parts about going to the theater (and the worst) is other people. Streaming movies and television shows from the comfort of your own home is great when you want to avoid other people's chit-chat and heckling; however, there’s something to be said about the communal experience. For the same reason laugh tracks make sitcoms funnier, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood works better in a theater.
When Cliff Booth (Pitt) kicks the shit out of Bruce Lee, people react. When an inebriated Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) confronts the homicidal hippies (yelling at them to get off his street), there’s a humorous element of suspense. Those same hippies then choose to attack Dalton and company instead of Sharon Tate. The subsequent interactions are made all the more rewarding when surrounded. There's beauty in the organic reactions of a crowded cinema seeing a satirical alternate history.
His films re-sensitize action.
The best type of action is subtle; it’s vastly more entertaining to watch a fed-up guy coldcock someone rather than throw 30 punches. Minimalist scuffles and gunfights make sense within a smart narrative. If violence is the result of confrontation and it’s earned, great. Too often we go to the theater and there’s non-stop action for no apparent reason. The movie begins and the screen is set ablaze; there’s no tension, suspense, or payoff. That’s a lot to take in when staring at a giant screen. Subtle or not so subtle moments (but still more subtle than a car turning into an alien war machine) like that of Cliff Booth (with the help of his dog) and Rick Dalton’s (with the help of his flamethrower) climatic encounter fit the bill. Anybody order fired sauerkraut?!
The adventurous visuals.
Ad Astra reels people into its world by creating a vaguely familiar environment. The filmmakers used actual NASA footage and technology spliced into with futuristic stuff so that the viewer never really needs to suspend disbelief. If you want to feel like you’re actually in space, go see this movie in theaters.
Stars thrive on the big screen.
At the end of the day, what fills seats? A movie star. There’s no way Once Upon a Time in Hollywood wasn’t going to do well in theaters. With two all-star names like Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio attached to it (as well as the golden directorial credit of Quentin Tarantino), audiences expected the best. Those actors, in particular, have proven track records, records that are littered with films that possess all the qualities listed here. Pitt has proven himself the kind of star that doesn’t even need to play the main character, igniting the screen with supporting roles in films like True Romance, 12 Monkeys, and now Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.
Scene-stealing is classic cinema.
It’s easy to figure out who the protagonist of a story is; they rule the screen with an iron fist. The best films have moments where those protagonists lose command of a scene. The main character will all of a sudden go quiet, and another, more powerful presence will appear. In Once Upon a Time in Hollywood that scene is when 10-year-old Trudi (Julia Butters) discusses acting techniques with Dalton while insisting that he only call her by her character’s name. She explains to Dalton (as DiCaprio shrinks in her presence) that there is no such thing as a perfect performance but that every performance is a chance to be better. The kid damn near steals the show.
If there’s one thing Ad Astra does, it’s a bit of soul searching. Ad Astra examines serious themes like coming to terms with one's long-lost father, which forces Cliff to confront his fears.
Reminding us why we fell in love with movies in the first place.
Both of Brad Pitt’s films this year were well-made features that will be talked about around award season and remembered for years to come. Cinema is meant to be an experience: turning off your phone, smuggling in alcohol, and holding your piss. Everything you see and hear is going to have a greater impact on you because, well, you’re in a fucking theater. It’s big and loud. When it’s over, you can go home and think about it or forget about it, but you probably won’t. Maybe you’ll look back on the time you went to see Ad Astra as the first date you had with your wife. You’ll remember Once Upon a Time in Hollywood because your buddy screamed like a little girl. Whatever the story, it’ll be all the more memorable because it was spent in a massive darkened room with only one exit.
As streaming becomes more and more the norm, going to the theater could become a forgotten ritual. Brad Pitt may be one of the last true movie stars to headline theater features; so whether his next role is a Marvel villain, baby Jesus, or a pair of Cliffs, be sure to buy a ticket.