Josh Brolin, Reconsidered

You might call Josh Brolin the Rory Culkin (or Stephen Baldwin or Lorna Luft) of the moment. He's one of those actors who are better known for their bloodlines—dad James Brolin, wife Diane Lane, stepmother Barbra Streisand—than for their own work. To the extent it's possible to take pity on someone so blessed, I do feel for the guy: Brolin is talented, but it's hard to avoid the hunch that he's getting work only because he's worked his connections. It's not as though his résumé is sparkling. His greatest hits include "The Younger Riders" (with Stephen Baldwin!) and a TV drama called "Mister Sterling." Oh, and "The Goonies."

So how, I wondered, did he land?in two of this year's most intense dramas, the Coen brothers' "No Country for Old Men" and Ridley Scott's "American Gangster"? Talk about setting yourself up for disaster. Brolin's costars are Tommy Lee Jones and Javier Bardem (in "No Country"), and Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe (in "Gangster"). Together, they have four Oscars; Brolin has one nomination—for a Blockbuster Entertainment Award. He doesn't have a ton of lines in either film. He's the good guy on the run from contract-killer Bardem in "No Country" and he's Denzel's bad-guy rival in "Gangster." But in both parts he fills the screen with a quiet ferocity that's chilling, and thrilling. I would've expected someone who has been warming the bench for so long to swing for the fences. Instead, Brolin underplays so deftly—a nasty strut here, a footrace with a Rottweiler through the Rio Grande there—that I couldn't take my eyes off him. Coincidentally, Brolin sports a droopy 'stache in both films. It's been a long time since facial hair, and nepotism, looked this good.

Josh Brolin, Reconsidered | U.S.