Josh Brolin

Jonah Hex (2010, Jimmy Hayward)

If you ever find yourself not believing in the idea that White people of wanting talent can fail upward, watch Jonah Hex. Every one of the principals from the film worked again when, based on the film as evidence, maybe John Malkovich should’ve gotten another job. Sure, Josh Brolin isn’t terrible in the lead, but it’s not like he acts enough you’d think there’s something to him as a talent. Michael Fassbender and Megan Fox are just plain bad, though Fassbender’s failing at a part, Fox isn’t even acting a part enough to fail at it. Of course, she is sympathetic because Hex really likes victimizing Fox, the only woman in the cast with a speaking part.

At least, with multiple scenes and a speaking part.

The film runs an indeterminable seventy-five minutes (eighty with end credits); it feels closer to a couple hours just because it’s so boring in its badness. The only times Hex gins up any energy is when it’s being surprisingly bad in some way or another, like when Black man in 1876 Lance Reddick has to tell Brolin he knows he wasn’t racist when he was a Confederate soldier, he just didn’t like following orders.

Hex is a heritage not hate bunch of nonsense from 2010. It’s a very lazy film and could have just as easily not had the sexism, the racial optics, some ableism, and given everyone less work and based on everything else in the picture, they’d have embraced it, but screenwriters Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor had some very definite places they wanted to go with the film. Ick places.

It’s a stunningly bad lead turn from Brolin. Yes, it’s clear director Hayward has no idea to direct actors—or even whether or not he should be directing them; I swear in a couple scenes it looks like Fox is glancing off screen for some kind of guidance. Or editors Kent Beyda, Daniel P. Hanley, Tom Lewis, and Fernando Villena just do bad work. Yes, all four of them for a seventy-five minute movie. Hex reuses at least three minutes of the same footage, bringing the “original” footage runtime down to seventy-two, then throw in another couple for the opening animated sequence, which Brolin narrates and recaps what happens between the prologue and the present action, and you’re down to seventy.

And for a seventy minute “intense Western action” adaptation of a comic book… Jonah Hex is still surprisingly bad. Incompetent might be the best word, but no worries, both producers failed up.

The only reasonable performance is Malkovich, who gets through it without any exertion or ambition, but without any failings either. He’s perfectly fine as a Confederate general who fakes his death so he can come back and firebomb the U.S.A.’s first centennial celebration with a steampunk super weapon. Sadly it’s about the only steampunk thing in the film, outside some explosive crossbow guns Reddick makes for Brolin; steampunk might at least be interesting.

Hayward’s a terrible director. He’s not good at action, either with explosions, guns, horses, fists, knives, or whatever else. Jonah Hex makes you realize what truly bad ideas Hollywood producers have about what makes something good.

Maybe the only thing I’m grateful about with Hex—other than the runtime—is not recognizing Michael Shannon, who seems to have a cameo and I do remember seeing someone who looks a little like him but thinking it was Neal McDonough. Wes Bentley’s quite recognizable and quite bad. One has to wonder what Malkovich thinks of acting opposite people who can’t make bad material palatable.

Will Arnett and John Gallagher Jr. have small parts I hope they talked to their agents about recommending.

Jonah Hex is a crappy movie and not in any interesting ways.

Oh, and Aidan Quinn. Poor, poor Aidan Quinn. He too hopefully had a long talk with his agent.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Jimmy Hayward; screenplay by Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor, based on a story by William Farmer, Neveldine, and Taylor, and the DC Comics character created by John Albano and Tony DeZuniga; director of photography, Mitchell Amundsen; edited by Kent Beyda, Daniel P. Hanley, Tom Lewis, and Fernando Villena; music by Marco Beltrami and Mastodon; production designer, Tom Meyer; costume designer, Michael Wilkinson; produced by Akiva Goldsman and Andrew Lazar; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Josh Brolin (Jonah Hex), John Malkovich (Quentin Turnbull), Michael Fassbender (Burke), Megan Fox (Lilah), Will Arnett (Lieutenant Grass), John Gallagher Jr. (Lieutenant Evan), Lance Reddick (Smith), Wes Bentley (Adleman Lusk), Tom Wopat (Colonel Slocum), Michael Shannon (Doc Cross Williams), and Aidan Quinn as the President of the United States.


Avengers: Endgame (2019, Anthony Russo and Joe Russo)

Avengers: Endgame had the ending I was hoping for, but maybe not necessarily the right ending for the movie. And it’s only got one. If Endgame has any singular successes, it might be in its lack of false endings. It does a lot of establishing work, sometimes new to the film, sometimes refreshing it from previous Marvel movies. Endgame is the twenty-second “Marvel Cinematic Universe” movie; you probably can get away with watching thirteen of them and getting the story. And maybe not all the ones you’d expect. And not always for the best narrative reasons, not given where it takes some of its characters.

The film opens catching up with Jeremy Renner. Even before the company logo. He missed the last outing because of something in another one of the movies. Not one of the Avengers movies either. Anyway. Renner, despite being really effective in the first scene, is a red herring. He’s there immediately for texture and structurally for when he comes back later on. Because first things first, after all. Given the way the previous movie (Infinity War) ends, there’s some anticipation. There’s some big action in the prologue too, some big team-ups, some nice moments. But it’s really an epilogue to the previous film. In fact, there’s even a cliffhanger moment they could’ve used to split them. Only no, because then the movie jumps ahead an arbitrary amount of time. Arbitrary in how it effects the narrative, but so specific you’ve got to think there’s some reason. Maybe for the twenty-third Marvel movie. Or the thirty-third.

The movie uses the jump ahead to allow for a new ground situation. Sometimes it’s drastic, sometimes it’s not. Even when it’s a theoretically big change, it doesn’t necessarily do much to change how the character functions in the film. Maybe it gives them some angst or whatever, but everyone’s got angst after the last movie. It only affects behaviors in a few. The rest… well, they’re a little thin. Screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely do an amazing job writing good scenes for the actors, but not good subplots for most of them. There are some disconnects between script and direction here, particularly with Chris Hemsworth. Markus and McFeely’s script gives him a lot of possibility and directors Russo have zero interest in pursuing it. Shame thing goes for Mark Ruffalo. He gets more to do than ever before, but never any good scenes to himself. Renner and Scarlett Johansson end up somewhere in between. They’ve got material, they get time for it… it still comes off a little too perfunctory.

In theory, Endgame’s two leads are Robert Downey Jr. and Chris Evans. Downey gets the most to do in the film and it’s a fantastic performance. It’s his movie, as much as it can be any actor’s movie. Meanwhile, the script doesn’t give Evans quite enough to do, even though it frequently has him around things to do. Markus and McFeely actually don’t give Evans an arc for the film. Him, first tier guest stars Brie Larson and Don Cheadle, Ruffalo, no actual character arcs. It’d be disappointing if it weren’t a movie about a bunch of superheroes time traveling to save the world.

The time travel goes back into the other movies, but doesn’t get too nostalgic about them. It’s nice Endgame can get traction out of the three locations, as they’re locations because of narrative detail not dramatic potential. There are a couple good action sequences in one of them, some wasted material for Hemsworth, some wasteful material Downey makes into gold, some old footage reused then CGI’ed to get another “name” guest star in the end credits, a major plot development for third act repercussion, and a too flat melodramatic moment. And a bunch of good acting, good directing, excellent CGI, and whatever else.

Endgame couldn’t get better, technically speaking. Everything directors Russo need to do, every shot, it all works. There’s a lot to keep moving. It gets kind of monotonous after a while, as the film’s ambitions are all about getting its story told, getting all its connections made, all its references echoed, all its characters in the right place for when the actors’ contracts run out. There’s no time to make wide filmmaking swings, but directors Russo don’t even seem interested in trying. They’re more than happy to leverage an old movie beat to get the job done.

Especially if it’s at Hemsworth’s expense. Especially Hemsworth’s.

There aren’t any bad performances. Downey’s the ace. Then Evans or Paul Rudd. Rudd’s better than anyone but Downey when he’s getting introduced; he’s momentarily the lead then he’s background. He ends up with even less to do than Renner. But Evans is in the whole movie. Ruffalo’s fine. There’s nothing for him to do. Hemsworth seems more than capable so it’s weird how little he gets to do. He’s fine. Johansson’d be better if she didn’t end up losing her arc once Renner’s back. There’s a moment where it seems like she’s going to give a really good performance. Instead, she’s fine. Good in comparison to others, when adjusting for all the film’s factors. Cheadle’s good with his stuff, which is mostly background noise. Karen Gillan gets a big arc, at least in terms of narrative importance, but loses it. She’s okay.

Gwyneth Paltrow is back for a bit. She’s good. It’s not a lot. But she and Downey get their magic going as needed.

Bradley Cooper’s great as the CGI raccoon’s voice.

As for Josh Brolin, whose villain was the whole show in the previous Infinity War? The CGI, motion-captured mean blue giant thing still works and Brolin’s fine, but… he’s got a thin part this time out. Technically lots to do, all of it really thin.

Endgame succeeds in being a well-acted, well-made, and well-written (enough) conclusion to the “world-building” done by the previous twenty-one movies. It just might have been nice if it tried to do anything else. Anything at all.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Anthony Russo and Joe Russo; screenplay by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, based on the Marvel comics created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby; director of photography, Trent Opaloch; edited by Jeffrey Ford and Matthew Schmidt; music by Alan Silvestri; production designer, Charles Wood; produced by Kevin Feige; released by Walt Disney Pictures.

Starring Robert Downey Jr. (Iron Man), Chris Evans (Captain America), Mark Ruffalo (Hulk), Chris Hemsworth (Thor), Scarlett Johansson (Natasha Romanoff), Jeremy Renner (Clint Barton), Karen Gillan (Nebula), Bradley Cooper (Rocket), Paul Rudd (Scott Lang), Don Cheadle (James Rhodes), Gwyneth Paltrow (Pepper Potts), Brie Larson (Carol Danvers), and Josh Brolin (Thanos).


Bed of Roses (1996, Michael Goldenberg)

A couple immediate thoughts occurred to me as Bed of Roses started. First, is it a good idea to be watching Bed of Roses? (Spoiler: no, it’s not). Second, what’s going on with Mary Stuart Masterson’s performance? It’s not a movie saving performance because it’s a terrible part. Only director Goldenberg (who also wrote the film) really wants to make it seem to be a good part. Bed of Roses is a lower, but still reasonably budgeted nineties version of a New York soap opera. Masterson’s the professional woman who just doesn’t have it all, even though it seems like she does. She meets a guy–Christian Slater–who is stalking her and grooming her but it turns out his really okay and wonderful and is just what she needs to get over a childhood of exceptionally bad abuse.

Except Bed of Roses doesn’t talk about the abuse. Masterson’s got this character who is never allowed to develop. It’s mortifying, but that weird thing about Masterson’s performance is she’s great. She is great at making this character, who gets treated terribly by the script and has absolutely no depth beyond being a victim and then awkward holding a baby, she does great. She doesn’t make the character work, she doesn’t make the film work. But she delivers this tragic, terribly written role. She’s acting opposite Christian Slater, after all, and he doesn’t bring anything to the film. He actually seems to enjoy the parts where he’s being manipulative more than the parts where he’s courting.

So, no, I shouldn’t have watched Bed of Roses, but I’m still stunned by how good it is at what it does. Goldenberg does a fine job directing. Sure, he’s stuck with Slater, but he takes full advantage of the more capable actors–Josh Brolin, Ally Walker, Brian Tarantina. It feels serious. Adam Kimmel’s gorgeous photography, Michael Convertino’s score, Jane Kurson’s editing. Bed of Roses can’t be better at what it does. It’s beautifully executed. It’s just manipulative and condescending.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Written and directed by Michael Goldenberg; director of photography, Adam Kimmel; edited by Jane Kurson; music by Michael Convertino; production designer, Stephen McCabe; produced by Allan Mindel and Denise Shaw; released by New Line Cinema.

Starring Mary Stuart Masterson (Lisa), Christian Slater (Lewis), Pamela Adlon (Kim), Josh Brolin (Danny), Ally Walker (Wendy), Kenneth Cranham (Simon) and Brian Tarantina (Randy).


The Goonies (1985, Richard Donner)

There’s a lack of consistent mood to The Goonies. The film has its phases and the mood and tone change from phase to phase, but Chris Columbus’s script changes characterizations between these phases as well, which is rather disconcerting. For example, while the film introduces the villains–Anne Ramsey as the mother, Robert Davi and Joe Pantoliano as her sons–with some humor, but by the end they’re entirely slapstick.

And Donner can’t really direct the slapstick. There’s a noticeable lag, which editor Michael Kahn (who otherwise does a phenomenal job) can’t do anything with. But Donner does well with the actors. Even the weak performances, like Jeff Cohen (whose annoying overweight kid isn’t just annoying, he’s also the butt of all the script’s jokes), are generally all right thanks to Donner’s direction.

There are some stronger performances–Martha Plimpton and Corey Feldman are both good. Josh Brolin and Kerri Green have their moments too. Jonathan Ke Quan simultaneously has a lot to do, physically, but not much to do acting-wise, which is good… he doesn’t do well in his big scene. As the de facto lead, Sean Astin is more appealing than good, but he does have some fine moments.

Excellent music from Dave Grusin and photography from Nick McLean help through the rougher spots–like the entire third act. Oddly, J. Michael Riva’s great production design shines brightest during that third act.

It’s saccharine and superficial, but Donner’s direction is quite good. It’s a passable kiddie adventure.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Richard Donner; screenplay by Chris Columbus, based on a story by Steven Spielberg; director of photography, Nick McLean; edited by Michael Kahn; music by Dave Grusin; production designer, J. Michael Riva; produced by Donner and Harvey Bernhard; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Sean Astin (Mikey), Josh Brolin (Brand), Jeff Cohen (Chunk), Corey Feldman (Mouth), Kerri Green (Andy), Martha Plimpton (Stef), Jonathan Ke Quan (Data), John Matuszak (Sloth), Robert Davi (Jake), Joe Pantoliano (Francis), Anne Ramsey (Mama Fratelli), Lupe Ontiveros (Rosalita) and Mary Ellen Trainor (Mrs. Walsh).


Hollow Man (2000, Paul Verhoeven), the director’s cut

Is Hollow Man the last of the “for CGs’ sake” blockbuster attempts? In the nineties, post-Jurassic Park Hollywood assumed doing genre standards over with CG would get big grosses. Hollow Man feels like one of those.

There’s nothing nice to say about the film, except one has a lot to mock. Incompetent screenwriter Andrew W. Marlowe doesn’t just write insipid dialogue, he also doesn’t know the difference between MDs and PhDs. Apparently neither does director Verhoeven since he let the line pass.

Speaking of Verhoeven (to get it over with), Hollow Man lacks any personality. Sure, Elisabeth Shue acts a little trampier than one would expect, but in her only good acting move, she never lets it get explorative. Verhoeven’s composition is competent, I suppose, but boring. He really likes CG-assisted helicopter establishing shots. Not exactly an exciting directorial flourish.

Watching the film, which does have some good special effects and inventive uses of invisibility, one can just marvel at Kevin Bacon’s terrible performance. While both he and Shue are bad (so are Greg Grunberg and Joey Slotnick), Bacon has to be seen to be believed. Marlowe’s dialogue is atrocious, but William Devane can manage it. Bacon’s attempts at scenery chewing are disastrous.

Only Josh Brolin and Kim Dickens escape with some dignity (besides Devane, of course).

Jerry Goldsmith recycles a lot of his old stuff for the score; it’s not terrible though, just redundant.

Hollow Man would be loathsome if it were competent. Instead, it’s immediately dismissible.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Paul Verhoeven; screenplay by Andrew W. Marlowe, based on a story by Gary Scott Thompson and Marlowe; director of photography, Jost Vacano; edited by Mark Goldblatt and Ron Vignone; music by Jerry Goldsmith; production designer, Allan Cameron; produced by Douglas Wick and Alan Marshall; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Elisabeth Shue (Linda McKay), Kevin Bacon (Sebastian Caine), Josh Brolin (Matthew Kensington), Kim Dickens (Sarah Kennedy), Greg Grunberg (Carter Abbey), Joey Slotnick (Frank Chase), Mary Randle (Janice Walton) and William Devane (Dr. Howard Kramer).


Mimic (1997, Guillermo del Toro), the director’s cut

Based on one of the edits, I’m assuming Mimic isn’t exactly a director’s cut (i.e. del Toro finished his cut, the Weinsteins took it and reedited it) as an approximation. He went back and did what he could to make it fit his intent. Maybe there are more examples—I haven’t seen the original cut—but the one I noticed was jarring.

Mimic’s not a bad film, but no one was really trying except the actors. I make that statement assuming Jeremy Northam was trying to be a thinking American action hero… but he just couldn’t do the accent.

The script takes a lot of short cuts. You’re supposed to care about Northam and wife Mira Sorvino because they’re having trouble having a baby.

Sorvino makes Mimic work—her early scenes with sidekick Alix Koromzay do wonders to establish the character.

Having the protagonists be married and in this thriller does show some ingenuity on del Toro’s part. It would work if Northam were good. And if del Toro didn’t have a little autistic kid in danger. del Toro does kill off a couple kids, which is a shock.

The cast is all strong—Giancarlo Giannini as the autistic kid’s guardian, Charles S. Dutton as a transit cop who’s stuck with Northam, Josh Brolin as Northam’s partner.

Oh, I forgot that ludicrous bit. The script has Northam and Brolin acting like movie detectives… only they’re CDC employees.

Great special effects. Terrible Marco Beltrami music. It evens out.

Mimic’s fine.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Guillermo del Toro; screenplay by Matthew Robbins and del Toro, based on a screen story by Robbins and del Toro and the short story by Donald A. Wollheim; director of photography, Dan Laustsen; edited by Peter Devaney Flanagan and Patrick Lussier; music by Marco Beltrami; production designer, Carol Spier; produced by Ole Bornedal, B.J. Rack and Bob Weinstein; released by Dimension Films.

Starring Mira Sorvino (Dr. Susan Tyler), Jeremy Northam (Dr. Peter Mann), Alexander Goodwin (Chuy), Giancarlo Giannini (Manny), Charles S. Dutton (Leonard), Josh Brolin (Josh), Alix Koromzay (Remy), F. Murray Abraham (Dr. Gates), James Costa (Ricky), Javon Barnwell (Davis), Norman Reedus (Jeremy) and Ho Pak-kwong (Preacher).


True Grit (2010, Joel and Ethan Coen)

By doing a faithful adaptation of the source novel, the Coen brothers ignore what True Grit does really well. It’s the incredible adventure of a girl, told without any gloss and at times rather harsh. It features one of those great child actor performances (from Hailee Steinfeld). And with their faithful adaptation, the Coen brothers take the role away from Steinfeld and give it to Elizabeth Marvel, playing the role as an adult.

Even worse, they end the film with way too thoughtful narration as a coda. It serves to establish True Grit as a “serious” Western instead of just a Western, something the rest of the film doesn’t really do. There’s nothing profound about the film’s narrative, it’s just what the Coen brothers do–they make really good films.

Their composition here is fantastic. With Roger Deakins shooting Grit, I don’t think there’s a single bad shot in the film (until the overlong third act, which also gives the viewer time to calculate story implausibilities and contrivances). There are many wonderful shots.

Bridges is good but his essaying of the role is a little abrupt. Matt Damon has less to work with and does more. The film’s mostly Steinfeld for the first act, the trio for the second, then the third introduces Josh Brolin and Barry Pepper. Again, Brolin’s got the showier role and ostensibly more material, but it’s Pepper who shines.

It’s very well made and very entertaining. They just didn’t make the profound film the ending suggests.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Joel Coen and Ethan Coen, screenplay by the Coen brothers, based on the novel by Charles Portis; director of photography, Roger Deakins; edited by Roderick Jaynes; music by Carter Burwell; production designer, Jess Gonchor; produced by the Coen brothers and Scott Rudin; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Jeff Bridges (Rooster Cogburn), Hailee Steinfeld (Mattie Ross), Matt Damon (LaBoeuf), Josh Brolin (Tom Chaney), Barry Pepper (Lucky Ned Pepper), Bruce Green (Harold Parmalee), Roy Lee Jones (Yarnell) and Elizabeth Marvel (adult Mattie).


You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger (2010, Woody Allen)

You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger is an unexpected surprise. Allen mixes a very black comedy with this light, almost absurd relationship comedy. But he never goes too dark.

I’m trying to think of a example but will undoubtedly fail to explain. Anthony Hopkins marries his call girl, played by Lucy Punch. Funny situation. This marriage ruins Hopkins. It’s not quite a “just desserts” situation because Hopkins isn’t a terrible guy. No one, with one exception, really gets a deserved comeuppance. Instead, they just navigate these incredibly frustrating, dumb situations they’ve put themselves in….

Allen almost loses it all at the end–he’s using narration (from Zak Orth, who does a fine job) and it doesn’t feel quite right–but then he saves it. This save is immediately following another scene where he could have perfectly ended the film. But the save is better.

Every single performance in Stranger is outstanding, but Naomi Watts and Josh Brolin can do these types of roles. It’s Antonio Banderas who really surprised me. He’s this perfect Woody Allen leading man (even though he’s in a supporting role here). Seeing him bluster and think and speechless… it’s just fantastic.

Gemma Jones is the other principal cast member (she’s Hopkins’s ex-wife, they’re Watts’s parents, she’s married to Brolin). Allen treats her comically, until he establishes it’s her world and everyone else is living in it.

There’s some nice minor performances from Pauline Collins and Philip Glenister.

I expected something decent, but Stranger‘s great.

3.5/4★★★½

CREDITS

Written and directed by Woody Allen; director of photography, Vilmos Zsigmond; edited by Alisa Lepselter; production designer, Jim Clay; produced by Letty Aronson, Stephen Tenenbaum and Jaume Roures; released by Sony Pictures Classics.

Starring Josh Brolin (Roy), Naomi Watts (Sally), Gemma Jones (Helena), Anthony Hopkins (Alfie), Lucy Punch (Charmaine), Antonio Banderas (Greg), Freida Pinto (Dia), Roger Ashton-Griffiths (Jonathan), Pauline Collins (Cristal), Anna Friel (Iris), Ewen Bremner (Henry Strangler) and Zak Orth (Narrator).


Milk (2008, Gus Van Sant)

As Milk‘s opening titles ran, it occurred to me Danny Elfman scored it. It doesn’t sound anything like Elfman’s norm–you know, the modified Batman music–but it sounded like the kind of score Danny Elfman should be doing (and should have been doing for years). Milk‘s a biopic–and always feels like one, thanks in great part to Van Sant’s reliance on contemporary news footage for storytelling. It’s a solid move, but it makes me think of Good Night, and Good Luck–which isn’t a bad thing, since Milk‘s an entry in that same genre. The dramatic, filmic biography… but not quite biography, since none of Harvey Milk’s life before the present action begins gets covered. Milk‘s Harvey Milk spends the eight years of the film’s present action becoming someone the man in the opening couldn’t have imagined. Where Milk succeeds so greatly is in the surprise–even knowing the story (or some of it, or just paying attention to the news footage at the beginning of the film), it’s impossible to forecast how the film’s Milk is going to develop.

It’s not Sean Penn’s best performance, but it’s got to be the only one of his best performances where he’s likable. He creates an almost magical character–the scenes with him giving speeches for unions or handing out a bouquet of flowers in a black barbershop–these should be unbelievable scenes (even if the real Milk did exactly the same things), but Penn makes them work. But the character is far from perfect–Van Sant could have easily approached Milk with some kind of destiny angle, but he doesn’t. Penn’s character is a human being, full of mistakes, full of regret, even if he does have a positive disposition. Penn’s played lots of protagonists–he hasn’t done anything in a long time–but in Milk, he plays a hero (his first?). No shock, he’s great at it.

Van Sant’s got an amazing supporting cast. Milk‘s got a huge cast, but the principal supporting actors–Emile Hirsch, Josh Brolin, Diego Luna–all standout. Hirsch and Brolin probably have an easier time (though both of them have a couple fantastic scenes), but only when I list them next to Luna, who’s got the film’s most difficult role. He plays an annoying, clingy drama queen (sorry, is there a PC term for drama queen); he’s got to irritate the viewer, cause some eye-rolling, but still be a sympathetic person. It’s a very difficult performance and, at the beginning, it doesn’t seem like Luna’s going to pull it off… but then he does.

Actually, a lot of Milk is in a similar situation. It’s always a solid motion picture, but it doesn’t skyrocket until after the halfway mark. The quiet introduction of Brolin, the deepening of Penn’s character, it all takes off. Before, Van Sant feels like he’s experimenting, trying to get the tone right. As it turns out, he is getting the tone right (presumably, it’s not an experiment, but a procedure to get the film to the right place). It’s easily Van Sant’s best film, but Dustin Lance Black’s script doesn’t hurt at all–the script’s mostly passive, but Black has a couple great approaches. Brolin’s place in the plot, for example, is great.

I haven’t mentioned James Franco yet. He deserves a better paragraph than this one will be. He’s astounding–it’s hard to imagine eight years ago I dreaded the very sight of his name–he keeps getting better as an actor. At its most successful, he and Penn make Milk.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Gus Van Sant; written by Dustin Lance Black; director of photography, Harris Savides; edited by Elliot Graham; music by Danny Elfman; production designer, Bill Groom; produced by Dan Jinks and Bruce Cohen; released by Focus Features.

Starring Sean Penn (Harvey Milk), Emile Hirsch (Cleve Jones), Josh Brolin (Dan White), Diego Luna (Jack Lira), Alison Pill (Anne Kronenberg), Victor Garber (Mayor George Moscone), Denis O’Hare (John Briggs), Joseph Cross (Dick Pabich), Stephen Spinella (Rick Stokes), Lucas Grabeel (Danny Nicoletta), Brandon Boyce (Jim Rivaldo), Zvi Howard Rosenman (David Goodstein), Kelvin Yu (Michael Wong) and James Franco (Scott Smith).


No Country for Old Men (2007, Joel and Ethan Coen)

There’s something untranslatable about the last line of a novel. Even though maybe it shouldn’t, it essentially sums up everything–not just the scene or the story or the characters, but the reader’s experience as well… (whether the writer’s experience of writing the book is summed up in the line is, obviously, immaterial). With No Country for Old Men, the Coen Brothers translate that moment in to filmic terms, which is a film first in my experience.

The film is a masterful immersive experience, the wide open Texas plains, the gradual, somehow disinterested narrative, Tommy Lee Jones’s soothing performance of an also somewhat disinterested character. The minute Josh Brolin walks across the plains, looking for the money he and the viewer knows must be there, No Country opens up and swallows the viewer. The maw invisibly closes. Javier Bardem is a red herring. While he’s fantastic, the character is fantastic, he’s not the compelling aspect. Brolin’s generally unlikable character, however, his experience–for much of the film–is the viewer’s reference point. The Coen’s don’t even need to do it in a standard way (I kept thinking about Robocop, how Verhoeven realized he needed to make the violence as graphic as possible to make the audience care about a character they’d known fifteen minutes)… I think they’ve got it down just from Brolin spying the money. The viewer cares about him because, for a few key moments, he or she and the character are the same–realizing the same things at the same time, thinking the same thing. It’s not big realization stuff, it’s empirical observation followed by a conclusion, which is different.

I’m wondering if that immersion is solely responsible for the Coen’s handling of the passing of time. No Country for Old Men doesn’t have a pace, it doesn’t go fast, it doesn’t drag. It just plays out. So I guess the playing out is a result of the immersion… But there are no rises or falls in action, in tenseness. The tenseness is on the scene level. There’s oddly no air of dread hanging over Old Men all together–something one of the characters brings up near the end: what, exactly, could happen differently. There’s no expectation of the coming scene. There’s some foreshadowing, but it’s not the same thing. No Country doesn’t create any anticipation… again, it’s an immersion result. Such effective immersion isn’t a new thing, but in a thriller, one would think it was cross-purpose. But it’s not. No Country for Old Men simply transcends the genre, possibly without even thinking about it (the Coens, usually so ready to be recognized for the dissimilarities between their films, draw no attention to No Country’s genre… in many ways, it’s the least Coen-identified film of theirs in fifteen years).

They also learned how to cast. Usually, their casts draw attention to themselves through familiarity or peculiarity (mostly how distracting William H. Macy got playing his standard in Fargo). Here, not at all. While Jones is playing a somewhat familiar role (though I’ve never actually seen him play a Texas lawman before), he’s doing something entirely different–he’s not a reluctant everyman compelled to act. Javier Bardem takes the film’s hardest role and makes it look like the easiest (he takes his character, a filmic villain only marginally different from Halloween’s Michael Myers and the like, and makes him real). Brolin’s deceptively good as the not-quite protagonist–every time I thought anyone could do the job, he did something to make himself essential.

When No Country started and was in Texas, I tried to force myself to look for some connection to Blood Simple. I quickly gave up, because–as usual–the Coen Brothers were doing something different. Except with this one, they put the film before their name brand quirkiness.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen; screenplay by Joel and Ethan Coen, based on the novel by Cormac McCarthy; director of photography, Roger Deakins; edited by Roderick Jaynes; music by Carter Burwell; production designer, Jess Gonchor; released by Miramax Films.

Starring Tommy Lee Jones (Sheriff Ed Tom Bell), Javier Bardem (Anton Chigurh), Josh Brolin (Llewelyn Moss), Woody Harrelson (Carson Wells), Kelly Macdonald (Carla Jean Moss), Garret Dillahunt (Deputy Wendell), Tess Harper (Loretta Bell), Barry Corbin (Ellis) and Stephen Root (Man Who Hires Wells).


Scroll to Top