Sunday, February 12, 2012

Blow Out the Candles: Josh Brolin

Josh Brolin
Born February 12, 1968

Since I featured his wife in last month’s birthday post, I thought it was only fitting to celebrate Josh Brolin’s birthday in February. He’s been on a roll since 2007, appearing in several different genres of film and portraying vastly different characters. George W. Bush, Jonah Hex, Llewelyn Moss, Dan White, Tom Chaney. He’s managed to do what other actors of his generation – Brad Pitt, Johnny Depp and George Clooney – haven’t been able to; make great films without the Hollywood pararazzi-assault. He could not care less about movie stardom. His career has been rejuvenated in the last several years because of his choices and because of his work. He’s turned down as many great roles as he’s accepted, and his selectivity has paid off in spades as many of the projects he’s undertaken during this upswing in his career have become landmark films.

Brolin’s career has had an interesting evolution. In his major film debut, he played the head-band wearing, jock older brother who ends up embroiled in a search for One-Eyed Willy’s hidden treasure in the iconic 80s film, The Goonies. Man, is that film ever great. It’s one of my favourite movies and it was a great starring vehicle for young Brolin. But he didn’t delve into other film roles after that success. Rather, Brolin followed it up with several stints in television with varying degrees of success. He lost the lead role in 21 Jump Street to Johnny Depp.

When Brolin next appeared in a film, he took on a role unlike any other he’d ever played – a bisexual fetishist cop in Flirting with Disaster, and was dubbed the “one to watch.” Once again, he followed this memorable role with forgettable character parts in less than stellar films. Early in his career, Brolin was a bit of a journeyman; his stock rising and falling as he made some questionable choices and spent years hardly working at all. It’s interesting that his wife, Diane Lane, followed a similar path where after signs of a promising career, she had mediocre success and quit acting for awhile.

After spending some time away from making movies, Brolin burst back on the scene when he appeared in Robert Rodriguez’s segment of the horror double bill Grindhouse as the sinister Dr. William Block. He played evil again in a small part as an evil narc in the drug dealer epic American Gangster. Then he starred in what is for me, Brolin’s most memorable and impressive role – a West Texas cowboy who goes on the run after stumbling upon $2 million in drug money in No Country for Old Men. The cat-and-mouse game that ensues between Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin) and hitman Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem) is my favourite part of the film. When Moss was killed and Brolin was no longer on screen, I found myself deeply disappointed by his absence. Bardem was frightening, captivating and exceptional in the film, but Brolin is the film’s obvious star to me.

Other notable roles include Brolin’s top-billed performance in the titular role of George W. Bush in Oliver Stone’s W. He nailed Bush’s traits and succeeded in capturing the essence of the real man rather than merely doing an impersonation or a caricature of him. Next came Brolin’s Oscar-nominated role in Gus Van Sant’s Milk, where he gave a strong, understated performance as Dan While, the city supervisor who assassinated gay rights activist and politician Harvey Milk. Brolin succeeds in portraying the character as two-dimensional; pitiable at times and then enigmatically evil.

James Brolin has become a fine actor in recent years, donning many hats in the roles he’s played while maintaining solely focused on his art rather than on the glitz and glamour of Hollywood. Now that his career is no longer in revival mode, it looks like another hiatus from the movie biz is unlikely as Brolin’s got three films slated for release this year. It seems he’s realized his worth, and at the rate his career is going, is poised for more great things.

What are your favourite Josh Brolin films? Let us know in the comments section.


  1. Great in The Goonies, Milk and with limited screen time in True Grit. Haven't seen W yet, still gotta watch that sometime. Shame to hear Jonah Hex sucked so badly.

  2. I think my favorite Brolin movie has gotta be No Country for Old Men; but I was also really surprised by his performance in Milk. He managed to hold his own against Sean Penn's amazing performance.

  3. It's still The Goonies for me. I'm still waiting word for the sequel.

  4. @Pete - The Goonies, Milk and True Grit are definitely three of his best films. W is worth seeing, particularly for Brolin's performance which is quite good. Jonah Hex was, well, awful.

    @Dave Enkosky - I agree on both counts. No Country is my favourite Brolin movie (although I would put it in a two-way tie with The Goonies.) He was great in Milk, and you're right, he held his own against the powerhouse acting of Sean Penn.

    @thevoid99 - I LOVE The Goonies. Hmm, not sure how I feel about a sequel. Sometimes sequels that are made too long after the original don't quite hold up, but it would be interesting to see how it'd be done.

  5. For me, his best performance was in Milk. He took a character that could have been a caricature and made him human.

    I do have to mention, that despite my ambivalence toward the entire franchise, Brolin's very brief appearance in the Men in Black 3 trailer as the younger version of Tommy Lee Jones' character has me intrigued. Unless Jones dubbed over the line, Brolin does a dead on impression of Jones both in tone and delivery.

  6. @Chip Lary - I agree. Brolin did a wonderful job of humanizing Dan White.

    I'm not a fan of the Men in Black franchise myself, and I haven't seen the trailer for Part III yet. I'll check it out. I am intrigued by Brolin's being cast in it, though I'm certain it's not a film I'll see in theatres.


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