It’s hard not to feel a sense of whiplash when it comes to Brad Pitt these days. At one juncture, he’s shilling his ultra-soft cashmere shirts in a Goop exclusive; at another, he’s suing ex-wife Angelina Jolie over some grapes in France; then he’s either dating-or-not-dating Emily Ratajowski. This is all happening while he’s producing the simmering but also possibly bad She Said, a film about the explosive NYT story by Megan Twohey and Jodi Kantor about the Harvey Weinstein abuse allegations, some of which Pitt fought against and some of which he was complicit in. As he continues to push the narrative of his own entrepreneurial “work” as well as his semi-woke producing credits (never forget when Youn Yuh-Jung took him to task in her Oscar speech for never showing up on the Minari set) against the relentless tide of legal drama between him and Jolie, it gets trickier to see how Pitt’s career can evolve.
Yesterday, The New York Times reported on the ongoing legal battle between Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie over their hotly contested French winery, Chateau Miraval; within the report were depressing and frightening allegations about an incident involving the former couple and their children on a private flight back in 2016. According to the files, “Pitt grabbed Jolie by the head and shook her, and then grabbed her shoulders and shook her again before pushing her into the bathroom wall. Pitt then punched the ceiling of the plane numerous times, prompting Jolie to leave the bathroom. When one of the children came to Ms. Jolie’s defense, the court papers said, Mr. Pitt lunged at the child, prompting her to grab him from behind. Amid the altercation, Mr. Pitt ‘choked one of the children and struck another in the face.’” It is bleak, scary stuff, the type of which Pitt would rather have you not think about when he talks about what temperature drinking water should be in conversation with Ottessa Moshfegh.
Where does Pitt’s career go from here? For years, the evidence of his cruelty towards Jolie has been increasingly apparent, and though he was America’s sweetheart in his 2019 awards run for his supporting turn in Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time… In Hollywood, it was tough not to see the strings being pulled at every intersection. Even now, Pitt is surrounded by allies, not only the Johnny Depp PR team who also did crisis work for Pitt’s old frenemy Harvey Weinstein, but the likes of Gwyneth Paltrow, his ex-girlfriend who is always happy to talk products with him. Even having someone like Emily Ratajkowksi — a model, sure, but also a feminist writer and thinker — associated with him gives Pitt the kind of faux-aware credo he needs to bolster his reputation as an aging male star.
It is impossible not to compare the continuing legal proceedings between Pitt and Jolie to that of the aforementioned Depp and Amber Heard. Pitt, like Depp, has pursued litigation against his ex-spouse despite there being credible and long-standing allegations about him, using legal strategies to silence her. There have also already been rumblings of an anti-Jolie campaign on YouTube, Tiktok, and Twitter, the same way there was for the Depp trial. But Pitt is also in a class of his own when it comes to all of this: people still really, really like him.
By the time Johnny Depp was on the stand in his own trial, he’d been dropped from the two most successful franchises of the 2010s. Pitt, on the other hand, starred in the middling Bullet Train, which broke over $100 million at the box office, along with a cameo appearance in friend Sandra Bullock’s The Lost City. This winter, he stars in Damien Chazelle’s explosive David O. Russell-esque (derogatory) Hollywood epic Babylon. He’s producing adaptations of popular books like The Three-Body Problem and Black Hole. Everywhere you turn in Hollywood, Pitt has his hands on something new and smart and interesting, whether it’s IP or skincare or a not-girlfriend. He is bankable, he is “funny,” he is award-winning, and he is still here.
He’s also, clearly, a piece of shit, but I predict that with enablers all around him, he’ll be able to slide through any sticking or lasting charges. Keep in mind the incident on the plane with Jolie happened six years ago — and since then he won an Oscar. There will be more fawning profiles touting his laissez-faire attitude and zen-like chillness. Brad Pitt will be fine because people keep telling him he’s fine. At some point, there will be a “tell-all” type of article, with a loving serif font and a sympathetic celebrity ear (Clooney? Paltrow? EmRata?) to whom Pitt will detail his suffering, tout Californian sobriety, and stress the importance of his friends and family without ever actually detailing the extent to which he is estranged from them. It is a nefarious business, hellbent on narrative on product over legitimate recovery. Though Pitt seems relaxed, cashmere-wearing and serum-rich, his malice is still there, written all over the paperwork of what’s to come.