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The Rebirth of Josh Brolin?

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For moviegoers of a certain generation Josh Brolin will always be Brand Walsh, the older brother in the band of nerdy outsiders populating

The Goonies

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. (Parts of that generation adore that movie because it first stoked a lifelong, still-burning torch for

.) Brolin was Josh Hartnett-boyish in Richard Donner's well-loved 1985 teenage adventure saga--as he was in ABC's western series

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The Young Riders

--but he soon grew into somebody who looked more and more like his father, James Brolin. Brolin pére is the Sterling Hayden of his generation, a man born to portray a series of military and law-enforcement officers, politicians, doctors, and other fatherly types requiring but a set of broad, stern shoulders and cleft chin. And although certainly built to follow in those footsteps, Josh Brolin's career has tried to steer clear of such typecasting, often leaving Hollywood not really knowing what to do with him. Save a wonderful turn as half of a gay federal agent couple in David O. Russell's 1996

Flirting With Disaster

, Brolin's modestly memorable roles have been fairly conventional bad guys (

Into the Blue

's drug runner), boilerplate thirtysomethings (

Hollow Man

,

Nightwatch

), just grist for the genre mill (

Mimic

), or cast in immediately forgettable trifles (

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The Mod Squad

,

Slow Burn

,

Melinda and Melinda

,

Coastlines

). Over this year alone, though, Brolin has finally found a few directors willing to indulge him in a little fun, letting him sink his teeth into more deliciously villainous or ambiguous roles. Robert Rodriguez let Brolin loose as a bad-father doctor in his

Planet Terror

half of the

Grindhouse

festivities. Ridley Scott's

American Gangster

finally unchained Brolin's corporeal menace and let him drip with full-on Lee Van Cleef sliminess in thuggy leather jacket and an effing sweet aftermarket Shelby Cobra GT500 (thank you, Joe MacLeod, for the correct ID of that). And in the Coen Brothers'

No Country for Old Men

Brolin sinks his acting choppers into a hard-working man who finds himself fighting for his life because of one bad decision he can't take back, seamlessly morphing from a guy just out for an antelope hunt into a Vietnam vet who knows how dress his own wounds and modify a pump-action shotgun into a sawed-off beast with a pistol grip. No idea if these three movies are mere anomalies or harbingers of things to come for Brolin, but these Lee Marvin-esque parts are a very good look for him. Now, if somebody would only start giving Adam Baldwin more Warren Oates-y characters.

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