Sometimes bad is good and good is boring. At least that's how I've always felt about Brad Pitt characters. Whenever I see the actor looking spit-polished and slickly dressed, I tune out. Throw in some scruff, scuzz, and swagger, on the other hand, and I'm all in.
Pitt's Jekyll & Hyde act dates back to 1993's Kalifornia, when he first let it rip as the white-trash thrill-kill drifter Early Grayce. Danger suited him. Since then, some of Pitt's best and most live-wire performances (Twelve Monkeys, Fight Club) have been the ones that tap into Bad Brad. The latest is Andrew Dominik's Killing Them Softly (2012, 1 hr., 38 mins., R), a grimy noir based on crime writer George V. Higgins' 1974 novel Cogan's Trade. Pitt has the plum role of Jackie Cogan, an old-school Mob enforcer hired to sort through the mess of a card game that got knocked over. All signs point to Ray Liotta's hotheaded Markie as the hood behind the heist. But Cogan's more than just a bruised-knuckle punisher. He's got smarts. And he's not buying it. Watching Pitt's whirring sociopath brain try to snap the puzzle pieces together and make sense of it all, you can see him come alive. He's an actor who shines brightest in the dark. A-