Is Brad Pitt beating George Clooney at his own game?
Let's play a Hollywood parlor game. Imagine you were an actor and had all the clout in the world. You could get any movie made, at any (reasonable) budget, with pretty much any director you chose. Let's say you had this power for four years. What would you do? Make a blockbuster? Option your dream book? Work with that brilliant but enigmatic auteur?
Brad Pitt and George Clooney live that parlor game because they're, well, Brad Pitt and George Clooney.
They also each have two movies out this year, both awards contenders, and have generally been throwing their weight around to get all sorts of difficult movies made in the last few years. Never has it been harder to get passion projects through the narrow studio pipeline. And perhaps not for a long time have two leading men had the influence and the desire to make the push.
That they're both playing the game is what they have in common. What they don't have in common is who's winning it: Pitt, by a surprisingly wide margin.
Taking their last half-dozen movies (We won’t include the voice work, and we won’t include Clooney’s “The Descendants,” which has been seen on the festival circuit but hasn’t yet been released), Pitt beats Clooney in almost every category.
That's true by box-office standards (Pitt has outgrossed Clooney $393 million to $251 million, even with specialized projects such as "The Tree of Life" and "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford" tossed in there).
That's true from a critical one (average Rotten Tomatoes score over those films is 86% to 69% in favor of Pitt).
And that's true from a general, just-take-a-look-at-what-they've-churned-out standpoint.
Arguably, Pitt's three best movies in that span have been “Moneyball,” "The Tree of Life” and “Inglourious Basterds." One is deeply enjoyable, one is deeply ambitious and one is both.
In that same span, Clooney has had "Up in the Air," which certainly rivals those films. And then..."The Ides of March"? "Leatherheads"? "The American”?
In fact, you could argue that Clooney' second best movie in this period, "Burn After Reading," doesn't even rate in Pitt's top five. And Pitt was better than Clooney in "Burn."
Plus Clooney made "The Men Who Stare at Goats," which should knock off a few points right there.
It was all supposed to go down differently. Earlier in their careers, Pitt was the good-looking one, the shallow one, the mimbo who might stumble into a good role but wouldn't know it if it hit him right across his pretty little head. (Watch the Chad Palomino/Pitt character in the Tom DiCillo cult classic "Living in Oblivion" for a sense of his standing with directors early on.)
Clooney, for all his looks, was the cerebral one, the son of a journalist who transitioned from television with enough serious-mindedness and influence to change the game. He made good on that promise with such movies as "Good Night, and Good Luck" and "Michael Clayton.” But that was a pre-“Leatherheads” Clooney, a time before, perhaps, pet interests got in the way of what's interesting.
It's not too late to turn it around and match your "Ocean's" co-star, George. You still have the clout, and the hair. But you like to go your own way. That’s fine, and good. But every once in a while, it may also not be a bad idea to take a look at what that other A-lister is doing.
-- Steven Zeitchik
Photo: George Clooney and Brad Pitt in "Ocean's Eleven." Credit: Bob Marshak/Warner Bros.