The Second Half Of 12 Monkeys Is A Sore Subject For Brad Pitt

In 1996, Brad Pitt earned his first Academy Award nomination for his showy turn as unhinged rich kid Jeffrey Goines in director Terry Gilliam's "12 Monkeys." Given the significance of the role in his career, you'd expect Pitt to have a special fondness for his performance in what is now considered a sci-fi classic. Turns out, he's not the biggest fan of his work in that movie.

Based on Chris Marker's brilliant short film "La Jetée," "12 Monkeys" is a downbeat brain-scrambler about a man from the post-apocalyptic future (Bruce Willis) attempting to locate the originator of the virus that will eventually wipe out the vast majority of the Earth's population. Upon arriving six years too early, the time traveller is swiftly committed to a mental institution where he makes the acquaintance of Goines, whom we soon learn is the son of a Nobel Prize-winning virologist (Christopher Plummer). Goines is a motor-mouthed, bounce-off-the-walls eccentric who's got just enough on the ball to be truly dangerous. When he seems to take Willis's tossed off observation about wiping out the human race to heart, we believe Goines is going to be the architect of humanity's collapse.

A trap in the writing

Pitt goes for the goofball gusto early in "12 Monkeys," particularly in his first scene where he shows Willis around the asylum (this capital-a acting display likely earned him the Oscar nomination). When Willis catches up with Goines six years after his release, he's still a cockeyed weirdo, only now he's playing the role of dutiful son. It is, however, an act, and, in an interview with The New York Times, Pitt confessed that he stumbled in trying to convey this deception:

"I nailed the first half of '12 Monkeys.' I got the second half all wrong. That performance bothered me because there was a trap in the writing. It's not the writing's fault, but it was something that I couldn't figure out. I knew in the second half of the film I was playing the gimmick of what was real in the first half — until the last scene — and it bugged the [expletive] out of me."

Where is Goines going?

Pitt doesn't elaborate, but it sounds like he would've toned down the manic energy, particularly those wild hand gesticulations, during his second-half interactions with his eco-terror cohorts. Goines does become a far less interesting figure down the stretch, but this is because — spoiler alert! — he has nothing to do with the spread of the virus. His big plan is comparatively innocuous and kind of wonderful: uncage every animal in the Philadelphia zoo and loose them on the general public.

If Pitt felt he needed to dial it back, Gilliam deserves some of the blame for not recognizing this and nudging his actor in that direction. But, really, the trap in the writing was that Goines just ceases to be interesting at a certain point. Short of a massive rewrite, there was nothing Pitt could do about this.