All images of courtesy of The Orchard
The deep, smooth-as-molasses voice of Sam Elliott has blessed the industry for over three decades so it was only a matter of time before a film was made to honor the talented actor who not only exudes a powerful, yet humble presence but is essentially Hollywood’s go-to sage for American cinema. Enter Brett Haley, director of THE HERO, a film that pays a long overdue homage to the Golden Globe-nominated actor through an emotionally moving tale of family, career, aging with style, and the delightful danger that could be had by taking Molly before accepting a Lifetime Achievement Award.
The film, which was co-written by Haley and Marc Basch, follows Lee Hayden (Elliott) an aging Western icon who is known for his role in a classic film called The Hero — but it has been decades since the film’s release. Elliott hasn’t found a similar role since and now spends his days using his golden voice doing work for BBQ commercials and smoking weed with his co-star/neighbor whilst reliving the glory days.
Lee’s world is turned upside down when he finds out he has cancer. His priorities begin to shift and he develops a relationship with younger stand-up comic Charlotte (Laura Prepon). She introduces him to a new way of living as he tries to find a new film role to cement his legacy, maintain a civil relationship with his ex-wife Valarie (Katharine Ross), and reconcile his relationship with his estranged daughter Lucy (Krysten Ritter). Balancing humor, grace, and the emotional dynamics of relationships with others and with oneself, The Hero is a moving film that serves as an example on how to treat and pay homage cinematic icons.
Without a doubt, this is Elliott’s movie. Haley has even said that he and Basch wrote this film specifically for him — and it shows. The movie pulsates with his even-handed energy he puts out in each scene, whether it be audibly or in silence. It’s no surprise that there are parallels to Lee Hayden and Elliott, with the main similarity being that the both of them are Western icons. Elliott’s inimitable voice is easily recognized and he has starred in a multitude of film and television, many of which his Western drawl fit in perfectly (Tombstone, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid). But main draw of The Hero is that it puts Elliott in the spotlight and he soaks it in, but does it with a humility and grace that no other actor can accomplish. The other actors in the film are perfectly aware it is Elliot’s well-deserved time to shine and they let him as they watch on the sidelines with a smile and a proud tear in their eye.
The film could have easily been a sob story about being an aging actor in Hollywood and although it is, there seems to be more of a focus on Lee’s relationships. Sure, we see his struggle with geting work, but it somehow connects with his personal life The majority of the time is spent with him and Prepon’s Charlotte, which is a How Stella Got Her Groove Back situation. Although there is merit and purpose to this relationship, particularly in a scene where he becomes a trending topic on Twitter after giving an awards acceptance speech on MDMA, it isn’t exactly the glue that holds the movie together. If anything, there is more interest in Lee’s relationship, or lack thereof, with Lucy. It’s a relationship that has nuance and complexities that Elliott and Ritter portray so well, but the resolution is a few steps away from being 100 percent satisfying.
The Hero is less about being an awards-worthy movie and more about a vehicle of admiration for Elliott. As opposed to his past roles, Lee Hayden is a stripped down, vulnerable character that would seem closest to the real-life actor. There’s an authenticity to his effortless performance that is comforting, full of soul, and wraps you in the warmth that is as rich of Elliott’s voice.
Running time: 93 minutes
Dino watches too much TV, enjoys reality singing competitions and laughs inappropriately during dramatic films. He’s a fan of comedy, podcasts, and comedy podcasts. He’s a reformed comic book geek and thinks “The Goonies” is the best movie of all time. When he isn’t stuffing his face with a burrito, he’s thinking about his next trip to Disneyland.
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Dino-Ray Ramos | Film Critic