In my review for the recent remake of Oldboy I wrote, “There is no more manly-man actor in the mold of Lee Marvin or Lee Van Cleef working today.”
I guess that shouldn’t be a surprise given that he was named after the rough-and-tumble character Josh Randall played by Steve McQueen in TV’s Wanted: Dead or Alive.
In Oldboy he’s so tough he’s a practically indestructible force of nature; able to withstand physical punishment that would make Grigori Rasputin look like a wimp.
The tough guy angle is one Brolin plays in a number of films, including his latest Labor Day. He plays an escaped convict who hides out in the home of a depressed, widowed agoraphobic, played by Kate Winslet. Over the course of one long holiday weekend she learns of his dangerous past and before you can say the words Stockholm Syndrome has fallen for the ruggedly handsome stranger.
It’s the kind of role that Brolin has mastered; the multi-layered tough guy but according to him, he doesn’t seek out those roles.
He says he wracks his “brain like crazy trying to figure out which films I wanted to be in.”
Some of those films include No Country for Old Men and Jonah Hex.
In the Oscar nominated No Country he plays down-on-his-luck Llewelyn Moss, who stumbles across the site of a drug deal gone wrong. Bullet-ridden dead men litter the landscape along with several kilos of heroin and a suitcase stuffed with two million dollars in cash. When he makes off with the money his life and the lives of those around him are changed forever.
Jonah Hex didn’t earn any Oscar nods, but did get some Razzie attention in the form of nominations for Worst Screen Couple for Brolin and co-star Megan Fox. The story of a supernatural bounty hunter set on revenge against the man who killed his family is as disfigured as its main character’s face but Brolin brings his real-life swagger to the role and has fun with some of the tongue-in-what’s-left-of-his-cheek lines.
One tough guy role got away from him however. On-line speculation had it that he would be cast as the Caped Crusader in the upcoming Batman vs. Superman. Although he would have been perfect for the part he lost out to Ben Affleck. Contrary to his bruiser persona he was gracious in defeat. “I’m happy for Ben,” he said.
My motto is “I watch bad movies so you don’t have to” and rarely has that ever been as true as it was when I watched, nay, endured “Jonah Hex.” Clocking in at a brief 80 minutes—73 without the end credits—“Jonah Hex” isn’t just painfully short, it’s also painful to watch for about 70 of those 73 minutes. The story of a supernatural bounty hunter set on revenge against the man who killed his family is as disfigured as its main character’s face.
Jonah Hex (Josh Brolin) wasn’t always the pizza-faced avenger we meet in the movie. Once he was a war hero, a confederate soldier whose refusal to obey a direct order from his commander Quentin Turnbull (John Malkovich, grabbing a paycheque) led to the death of Turnbull’s son. Drummed out of the military he settles down with his wife and son; settles down that is, until Turnbull tracks him down, makes him watch his family be killed and scars his face with a branding iron. Left for dead he survives, but just barely. He has one foot in the human world, one foot on “the other side.” He can “talk” to the dead, which is convenient because most everyone around him winds up six feet under. His only companions are his horse, his dog and a courtesan named Lilah (Megan Fox) who clearly does not judge Jonah’s book by its cover. Hex gets his chance at revenge when he is hired by the government to stop Turnball from using his “super weapon” to destabilize the government and achieve what the civil war couldn’t—succession.
“Jonah Hex” is silly, but so are a lot of movies based on comic books. Its sins are way worse than a dose of silliness. It’s not just poorly made, it’s inept, with little idea of how to tell the story and even less of an idea of how to stage a cool action scene. There are odd flashes here and there—a surreal resurrection sequence must be seen to be believed and Jonah does have some cool moves—but by and large it looks cheap and feels incomplete, as though the cutting room floor is littered with the connective tissue that would have fleshed out the story to something that made sense. The production company responsible for this mess is called Weed Road so perhaps it shouldn’t be a shock the story has a drug induced, hallucinatory feel.
Josh Brolin brings his real-life swagger to the role and has fun with some of the tongue-in-what’s-left-of-his-cheek lines, but because of the heavy make-up he’s wearing it is often hard to understand what he is saying.
Former It-Girl Megan Fox brings a tight corset, wasp waist and little else to her brief role and others, like Will Arnett and Wes Bentley, are given even less to do.
The best thing about “Jonah Hex” is that at 73 minutes, it isn’t longer.
The first glimpse of Josh Brolin as scarred comic book bounty hunter Jonah Hex reveals it is a role he was born to play. His natural bad boy swagger shines through the character’s heavy make up but Brolin wasn’t the first choice to play the character, or even the second. As is so often the case in Hollywood many other actors were first considered for the part.
California surf boy Matthew McConaughey was approached, as was indie film darling Emile Hirsch.
Thomas Jane even went as far as submitting photos in full Jonah Hex drag, scars and all.
In the end, Brolin brought that extra something special that made the role his, and joined a long list of actors who weren’t the first choice to headline big movies.
Many actors have played James Bond but a recent JamesBondwiki.com poll anoints Sean Connery as the two-to-one people’s favourite.
Guess what? He wasn’t the first choice.
Author Ian Fleming partially modelled the Bond character on Cary Grant, so the suave actor was top-of-the-list when the first Bond film, Dr. No, was cast. Grant, however, sent his regrets, saying he was too old to play the spy.
When Connery was cast, the writer was less than pleased.
“He’s not exactly what I had in mind,” said Fleming, who felt Connery was too “unrefined” for the role. He later changed his mind and Connery went on to play Bond in six movies.
Connery was the first choice to play Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings series but said no.
“I didn’t understand the script when they sent it to me,” he said. “Bobbits? Hobbits?”
New Line apparently wanted him so badly they offered him a huge chunk of the of worldwide box office receipts. That “no” cost him almost $400 million.
Many other movies have “settled” for second choices. Pretty Woman director Garry Marshall courted Molly Ringwald and Daryl Hannah, who said no because she felt it denigrated women, before casting Julia Roberts.
Can you imagine The Matrix without Keanu Reeves? Apparently the Wachowski Brothers could as they offered the role of Neo to Will Smith first. Smith declined, opting to make the box office disaster Wild Wild West instead, but says he has no regrets.
“I would have absolutely messed up The Matrix. At that point I wasn’t smart enough as an actor to let the movie be — whereas Keanu was.”