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.
In the movie Parker Jason Statham, British actionman and Hollywood star, plays the title character. He’s a ruthless career criminal with a twisted sense of ethics—he doesn’t steal from the poor or hurt innocent people.
Sound familiar? Well it should, as the character is the star of 24 books written by Donald E. Westlake (under the pseudonym Richard Stark). In the books Parker is a man of mystery, who has never had a given name. Westlake never gave a first name to the character, once joking, “I don’t know what the hell it would be, maybe Frank.”
Many films have also been made from the books, with Parker played by everyone from Lee Marvin to Mel Gibson to Robert Duvall.
If the movies don’t ring a bell, however, it’s because on film Parker has often been renamed.
For instance in 1967’s Point Blank (based upon the novel The Hunter) Lee Marvin played the character named Parker in the book but changed to Walker for the film. In Marvin’s version Walker is a tough, hard man, a characteristic the actor may have taken too seriously. Legend has it that in rehearsal Marvin hit co-star John Vernon so hard Vernon burst into tears.
The next year The Split (named The Seventh in print) saw Parker played by Jim Brown but called McClain. This movie is most notable as the first theatrical release to receive an R rating from the brand new MPAA’s film rating system.
In the 70s and 80s the Westlake Parker novels remained popular Hollywood source material. Robert Duvall switched the name to Macklin in 1973s The Outfit, one of Quentin Tarantino’s favorite films, while the excellently named Slayground with Peter Coyote in 1983 featured a character called Stone.
The best-known Parker adaptation is Payback in 1999, the second film made from The Hunter. In this revenger story Mel Gibson as Parker (switched to Porter) plays a man shot by his wife and best friend and left for dead.
So many actors have played the character, but who would Westlake, his creator, like to have seen in the role? “Usually I don’t put an actor’s face to the character,” he said, “though with Parker, in the early days, I did think he probably looked something like Jack Palance. That may be partly because you knew Palance wasn’t faking it, and Parker wasn’t faking it either.”