Is Josh Brolin Really a Movie Star?

by Kolby Solinsky

White Cover Magazine

The headline of this “article” is a question that is intentionally unfair and a little cruel. Cruel to only one person, the actor Josh Brolin, but cruel still. (It could be crueller to his father, James Brolin, because Josh is a bigger star than his father ever was or could be, either out of the right amount of talent or the right look or the right decisions.)

And it’s a little stupid because of two reasons:

  1. There really aren’t movie stars anymore. At least, not in the way there used to be movie stars – and this is a point that the Coen Brothers and Brolin, in a starring role, make in their latest movie together, Hail, Caesar! In the thirties and forties and fifties, Hollywood had movie stars – they were owned by the studios and split like cartels dividing territory. Now, thanks to the diluting and foggy merger of every medium, we don’t have TV stars or radio stars or movie stars – we just have stars, and they better be able to do it all.
  2. I really like Josh Brolin. And he’s a terrific actor. A genuinely cool-seeming guy, in the classic definition of the word ‘cool’ – a serious man with the ability for comedy, someone who uses both his laughs and his anger sparingly. The kind of actor you could imagine in a leather jacket or under a cowboy hat, above a horse with Marlboro across the poster.

But it’s something I want to talk about because it’s something I noticed and wondered while watching Hail, Caesar! for the first time. Just a couple of days ago.

It’s hard to get excited about the movie, both before you see it and while you’re watching it. This isn’t because it’s not good or not smart or not written well. And it’s not because of the cast, which is stacked – Scarlett Johansson, Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum, George Clooney, Tilda Swinton, Ralph Fiennes, and someone young and fascinating named Alden Ehrenreich all back up Brolin for a 106-minute period Coen-esque caper. (What’s Coen-esque? Well, like The Big Lebowski and Burn After Reading, the whole movie rotates around a mystery you’re watching unfold but still can’t figure out, and there’s a series of misdirects and consequence-less plot points that lead to a goofy, ultimately underwhelming ending.)

Nobody in the movie is honest except when they’re being genuinely dishonest. Brolin is its conscience and he carries the film. But he only carries it. It’s the role, sure, but it’s also a perfect fit for him. And when the movie ends you realize that it’s going to be a pretty forgettable flick, the kind of movie you’ll never be able to use for a Halloween costume because nobody at the party will make the connection. And it’s forgettable because it’s Brolin leading the way.

There are other actors like Brolin, actors who directors and producers are trying to make us like, trying to force-feed into our eyes until we believe they’re stars – actors like Jesse Eisenberg and Jeremy Renner. These guys are easy to root for but impossible to cheer for. They don’t inspire cheers. And if you don’t inspire cheers, you don’t translate to popcorn.

Read: Cafe Society and the Never-Ending Evolution of Woody Allen by Kolby Solinsky (October 31, 2016)

Brolin is at his best when he’s a pleasant surprise to see in the background. He was very good in Hail, Caesar! and exceptional in a bunch of others over the past decade – Inherent ViceTrue GritYou Will Meet a Tall Dark StrangerMilk and No Country for Old Men all come to mind. But where he’s been billed to pull at the box office, his efforts have been met with a shrug and thud – most noticeably Gangster Squad, which was very clearly sold to Brolin and Ryan Gosling and Sean Penn as a chance to star in an Ocean’s Eleven-ish approach to the ‘Noir Los Angeles Crime’ genre. It didn’t work out that way. Unlike Ocean’sGangster Squad was clearly enjoyable for the stars to make but wasn’t enjoyable for the audience to watch.

It’s very clear that some people in Hollywood want Josh Brolin to be a movie star. But I can’t say it’s clearly working.

*The photo at the top of this article is from Wikimedia Commons, credit to author Siebbi.