Like most other American kids who grew up in the 1980s, my introduction to Josh Brolin happened with The Goonies, in which he plays the stereotypical Spielbergian big brother Brand to the treasure-hunting boy hero Mikey (Sean Astin). It helps that Brolin didn’t make another hit movie for nearly a decade following The Goonies, ensuring that his alter ego Brand would remain one of the defining movie good guys of the ’80s, his cinematic impact and influence undiluted by the actor appearing in any other similar role.
Some thirty-odd years later, Brolin is a full-fledged leading man primed to lord over a hefty chunk of the 2018 summertime box office, with starring roles in no fewer than three ambitious and highly anticipated sequels set for release over the next few months.
First up is a little movie you may have heard of called Avengers: Infinity War wherein, after a six-year tease, Brolin finally takes center stage as Thanos, the Big Bad of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
A few weeks later we’ll get Ryan Reynolds’ sequel Deadpool 2, in which Brolin stars opposite the Merc with a Mouth as futuristic cyborg Cable, considered by comic book scholars to be one of the better Marvel antagonists.
Finally, at the end of June, Brolin returns to the gritty world of secret border skirmishes and brutal drug cartel wars in the sequel to 2015’s Sicario, titled Sicario: Day of the Soldado.
To prepare you for the imminent Age of Brolin, here’s a close-up view of Josh Brolin’s most essential big screen performances.
The Goonies (1985)
The prototypical big brother role in any given Steven Spielberg production tends to be part awkward dork, part fledgling heartthrob, and part ballbuster, and he must act the straight man while enduring the lunatic obsessions of his younger sibling(s). That Brolin stands out at all among the boisterous cast of junior misfits is an early testament to his confidence and charisma.
Flirting with Disaster (1994)
Having matured after nearly a decade of television, Brolin emerges as an exuberant supporting character actor in David O. Russell’s piquant meet-your-birth-parents comedy. His brief turn as a bisexual federal agent partners him with nebbishy control freak Richard Jenkins, and their snappy repartee is full of wonderful and escalating comic revelation.
American Gangster (2007)
Brolin is but one of an astonishing array of A-listers who populate the supporting ranks of Ridley Scott’s sprawling ’70s-era New York crime saga. Co-stars Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe tower over everyone else, but Brolin makes a strong impression as a corrupt narcotics cop, a nasty bit of villainy that recalls Nick Nolte’s chilling turn as a bad detective in Sidney Lumet’s Q&A.
No Country for Old Men (2007)
In the Coen Brothers’ 80s-era Western, adapted from the Cormac McCarthy novel, Brolin stands out among a strong ensemble cast as a Texas everyman-of-few-words who happens upon a bag of cash and must elude various vicious men after it. Despite its infuriating non-ending, the film took home the top Oscars and has endured as a masterwork of modern-day film noir.
Men in Black III (2012)
Brolin rarely gets to do all-out comedy, but his spot-on take of a young unflappable Tommy Lee Jones in the time-travelling third MIB movie is a masterstroke of loving and merciless deadpan impersonation. Forget about Will Smith for another installment, and I could give or take Chris Hemsworth in the upcoming sequel/soft-reboot; instead, I’d pay to see another MIB picture with Josh Brolin any day.
I wouldn’t have pegged this remake of the Korean revenge thriller as something that would attract the interest of Spike Lee, but the controversial filmmaker’s brisk and brutal Americanization turns out to be a terrific genre exercise, brimming with operatic style, dark humor, and uncompromising physical and emotional violence. At the center of the maelstrom is a tour-de-force performance from Brolin as a shady character who is by turns eminently risible and utterly charming, ultimately worthy of our allegiance and yet wholly despicable through and through. Few actors can portray such a remorseless scum bag and still remain so compelling.