I was wrong. It isn’t that he’s a bad actor, it’s that he’s an opaque one. Whether by choice or by specificity of talents, Brad Pitt is not going to reveal himself to you onscreen, ever. The movies of his that succeed are the ones that know this and use it to their advantage.
Opacity in performance—an acting style in which the subtext of a character is present but kept secret—is made possible by film. Without the close-up, the reaction shot, the bit of closely observed business, keeping secrets from the audience is difficult. I know of only two actors who regularly pulled this off on stage (James Urbaniak and T. Ryder Smith). Film enables it, but our preference as audiences is always for revelation, to be embraced (or at least charmed) by a performance rather than held at a distance by a man presenting an unsolvable mystery.The only thing that I can add to this is that when I saw Thom Pain (Based On Nothing), James Urbaniak towered over us. I don't think he's exceptionally tall... he just took that opacity and filled a room with it. It was unnerving.
... also, how did that play not get the Pulitzer. I think Doubt should have been disqualified just for its last sentence! Grumble grumble grumble.
Updated: I was so busy grumbling I forgot to link back to Isaac. Whoops!