A 'bruised' wife and a careful denial: Brad Pitt's 'good guy' crown is wobbling.

Listen to this story being read by Holly Wainwright, here.

A jaunty pink suit. 

A rough-hewn brown linen skirt. 

A knowing grin. Fingers curled into a love-heart, a double thumbs-up, the trademark self-deprecating raised eyebrow as he threatens the red carpet camera with a playful pulled-punch. 

Brad Pitt is on the promo trail. His name - his $300million movie-star name - is the biggest among the stars of Bullet Train, a hyper-violent action-comedy about an unlucky hitman adrift in Japan. Brad Pitt's name is always the biggest in any movie he appears in, at any film festival he attends. Since his eye-watering debut as the most beautiful crook in Thelma and Louise back in 1991, he has crafted a career that now has him - at 58 - in the enviable position of still being both credible and bankable.

Image: Getty.  


Image: Getty.  


Also, this week. A different picture of Brad Pitt. Painted in words between heavy lines of black redaction in an FBI report. 

A drunk and messy man, grabbing his wife by her head, by her neck, by her shoulder and shaking her. A man who is yelling, screaming at her and at their children. 

This version of Pitt is on a private plane, travelling between homes in France and California. He's been drinking and is angry about the way his wife, and the oldest of their six children, chose to get to the airport. 

On the flight, he's shouting, furious, and he lunges at their oldest child, the 15-year-old whose attitude enrages him. His wife tries to intervene, and he bucks, throwing her backwards to the ground, injuring her arm and back and hand. This version of Pitt repeatedly punches the ceiling of the plane, pours beer on his wife as she tries to sleep and when the plane eventually lands, he tries to stop her from leaving with the family. He calls her crazy, mad, says she's trying to f**k this family. And he shakes her again. 

"Are you okay, Mommy?" asks one of the younger children. 

"No, mommy’s not ok," he answers. "She’s ruining this family. She’s crazy."

The child then asks their father not to hurt their mother. 


Brad Pitt steps off this flight, on September 14, 2016, and his marriage is over. 

It's been a smouldering ruin ever since, occasionally igniting into sparks of ugly dispute over custody, over money, over safety. 

So does one version of Brad Pitt cancel out the other? 

Image: Getty.  


No one gets to be Brad Pitt without an enormous amount of luck, hard work and good will.

For Generation X (that's me, raising my hand), Pitt has long been one of the good guys. One of our adored icons. His image - as a decent mid-western guy, who's self-aware about his ridiculous good looks and the doors they opened for him, who has worked to cast off lightweight pin-up roles to become a respected, Oscar-winning actor - even survived one of the most infamous celebrity marital infidelities of all time. That one when he left his first wife, the woman whose name must always be prefaced with "America's Sweetheart" Jennifer Aniston, for the woman who would become his second, Angelina Jolie.

It was Jolie who was on that plane with him in September 2016, and it's their six children who, she says, witnessed that explosion, and who, she's been claiming in court for years now, she is trying to protect and heal from their dad, who has alcohol and anger issues. 

Good guy Brad's image survived a cheating scandal, drug rumours and a slew of pretty bad movies (Meet Joe Black, anyone?) because he's done a lot of worthy things. He and Angelina's charitable foundation - it donated millions of dollars to unpopular but worthy causes over the decade they were together - offset ill-will about their beginning, and any discomfort about the scale of a lifestyle that involved a chateau-vineyard in the south of France and Brad's penchant for expensive architectural homes. 


He has fronted up for liberal causes. He was on the right side of #metoo, name-checked by his former fiance Gwyneth Paltrow for bailing up a predatory Harvey Weinstein when he made his move. And he'd seemed to find genuine joy in a big family life, travelling the world supporting Jolie in her humanitarian work, with their six children always in tow.

Sure, some of his good deeds wobbled. He and Jolie spent some time living in New Orleans in the mid-noughties. When the city was devastated by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, he was the face of a rebuilding scheme that promised 109 new homes to the hardest hit areas. That project has just settled out of court - for US$20.5million - with residents who found the houses to be mould-ridden, prone to fires and badly plumbed with dirty water.

Image: Getty.  


But hey, here's a guy who's trying, his friends would say. And what friends. Pitt's long-held status as Hollywood legend means he keeps stellar company. George Clooney is a bestie. Leonardo DiCaprio. Quentin Tarantino. Bradley Cooper has been credited with helping him get sober in a post-Jolie world. His famous exes, Paltrow and Aniston, have both bolstered his 'good guy' image by appearing with him in recent years. Aniston for a cheery charity Zoom call, Paltrow in a collab with him and her lifestyle brand, Goop, to help sell Pitt's own line of cashmere check shirts, that retail for more than US$2000 each. 

He's been careful, since the divorce, to not be public with any new relationships. There have been rumours of romances with a Polish model and with a MIT professor, but they are only rumours. No public red carpet appearances. No Insta-official announcements. 

Post-Jolie Brad is part repentant monk, part aw-shucks single dad. "I've got to add this to my Tinder profile," he joked, of the SAG Award he won for Once Upon A Time In Hollywood in 2020. And when he won the Oscar that year, "This is for my kids, who colour everything I do." 


So does his masterful PR spin and his powerful network explain why, until last week, and the release of the FBI documents that reveal what apparently happened on that private plane six years ago, Pitt has managed to stay far from his cancellable generational peers? Why fans like me would never place him alongside a... Johnny Depp, say, in a rogue's gallery of problematic boomer dudes. 

Yes. But there's another reason. 

Angelina Jolie. 

In the nineties and noughties, Jolie played a very specific role in our collective celebrity psyche. Wild child. Sex kitten. Homewrecker. 

She was honest about her bisexuality in interviews back when no one was doing that. She had explosive relationships - marrying Jonny Lee Miller in a white shirt with his name written in blood on the back, 'running off' with Billy Bob Thornton while he was still ostensibly in a relationship with the actress Laura Dern - and she leaned into her 'wild-thing' image with talk of knife play, drugs and vials of blood as jewellery. She kissed her brother on the Oscars red carpet and sparked a million hot-takes, before the Internet had invented them.

Image: Getty.  


By the time she and Brad Pitt outed themselves as a couple - on an African beach in 2005 - Jolie's image had taken a different turn. The undeniable bombshell had adopted a little boy from Cambodia - Maddox, who would grow up to be a teenager facing off with his Dad on a private plane - and had started working with the UN as a special envoy. 

She wanted a big life, a meaningful one, full of children and travel and purpose. 

But all we saw, through the lense of the tabloids, was a "husband stealer", unstable, greedy and suspiciously sexy. 


This tells us a great deal about the way we see women. Despite Jolie doing more than most celebrity figures to affect good in the world - she's made more than 60 missions to war zones and refugee camps with the UN, she caused millions of women to be more vigilant about cancer after her essay about a double mastectomy and subsequent hysterectomy after discovering she had the BRCA gene, she's campaigned against rape as a weapon of war, she's an advocate for refugees, she's directed foreign language films about conflicts many have forgotten - her reputation as a "man's woman" persists. 

She's tainted with an air of mistrust that sticks, even though the reason we're reading about the plane incident is not because she leaked it, but because it was turned up by a political website after she and Maddox filed a Freedom of Information Act under a pseudonym designed to keep her name out of it. 

Although the FBI dropped the investigation into what happened in 2016, it's worth looking at the very carefully worded denials from Pitt's camp. They don't dispute that there was a fight on that flight, but they do claim he never deliberately struck anyone.

“Brad may have been drinking, and admits that he yelled at his son, but he insists he did not hit him or attempt to harm him. It was a confrontation that got out of hand," a credible source told the New York Post.

This week, as Pitt continues to charm on his global press tour, his fans and supporters are talking themselves into reading that report. Not on trashy tabloids but on the Los Angeles Time, Politico and Puck. And we're daring ourselves to not look away. 


Maybe there are two Brad Pitts. Or maybe he is a contradiction, like all of us. A good guy and a damaged and dangerous one, at once. 

Maybe there's no need to 'cancel' this 58-year-old man over a dispute that should have long since resolved. But there's also no need to demonise his ex-wife. "Himpathy" has no space for a woman criticising her powerful husband, as Amber Heard can tell us.

And there's also no need to do what I've been doing, as a long-time Brad-stan: Making excuses for a handsome, charming hero who turned out to be predictably, disappointingly human. Spoiled. Angry. Drunk. 

Perhaps there's a time to re-examine the stories we tell ourselves about who's "good" and who's "bad" in Hollywood. 

These men are held steady on their pedestals by a powerful network of supporters, and perhaps it's time to give the plinth a little kick, and see what wobbles. 

That's what the FBI report did last week. 

It's the only reason we have glimpsed the Brad Pitt behind the red carpet winks. 

They look a little different now, don't they? 

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