Josh Brolin, like his “Hail, Caesar!” co-star George Clooney, came into his own as a movie star after years of trudging through less than fab B fare. Brolin credits his mid-career turnaround to Robert Rodriguez on “Grindhouse” which led to the Coen brothers and Oscar-winner “No Country for Old Men” and “True Grit.” Brolin has been on a roll (with the occasional “Jonah Hex”) ever since, shooting Gus Van Sant’s “Milk” (landing a supporting actor nom), Oliver Stone’s “W” and “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps,” and Woody Allen’s “You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger.”
Brolin is a chiseled American actor who boasts that rare combination: dangerous masculinity and sexy vulnerability. He plays both villains and lovers—see Jason Reitman’s sexy “Labor Day.” He played a cop with a flat top in Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Inherent Vice,” and 2015 brought strong turns in both “Everest” and “Sicario.” Sometimes an actor grows into his maturity. On the verge of his 48th birthday, Brolin is in that sweet spot.
The Coens have put him front and center in “Hail, Caesar!” a 50s Hollywood valentine they’ve been planning to do with Clooney ever since “O Brother, Where Art Thou?,” but finally finished writing. Brolin is Eddie Mannix, the studio fixer at Capitol Pictures (shot on the Warner Bros. lot), who is constantly trouble-shooting productions, saving errant stars from the tabloids—or rival twin gossip columnists played hilariously by Tilda Swinton—and trying to be a better man. While he puts on a strong front in public, we also see him confessing his sins to a priest, who gently suggests that he doesn’t need to see him quite so often.
Brolin carries the broad period comedy as a straight man with a light touch, caring for his “debaucherous children,” from a pregnant swimming star (Scarlett Johannson) who needs to get married and a hopalong cowboy trying to speak proper English in a drawing room comedy (Alden Ehrenreich) to his “Hail, Caesar!” movie star Baird Whitlock (Clooney) who has been kidnapped by a gang of disgruntled Communist writers. When Mannix finally gets Whitlock back, he earnestly spouts the Communist propaganda he has learned. That’s when Mannix slaps him silly.
Yes, Brolin admits. He did get carried away.