Brett Haley’s “The Hero” features Sam Elliot in the role he was born to play—himself.
It’s no wonder then that Elliot’s portrayal of himself—well, a sad, washed-up, pot-smoking version of himself named Lee Hayden—is nothing short of masterful.
The film follows Hayden, an actor diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, as he smokes weed with his neighbor and one-time costar (Nick Offerman), starts a relationship with the younger Charlotte Dylan (Laura Prepon), and attempts to revive both his career and his relationship with his daughter (Krysten Ritter). Beyond that, nothing much really happens. Krysten Ritter doesn’t get enough screen time, and that whole subplot is underdeveloped. But despite the movie’s slow pace, a talented cast and peppered moments of transcendence by Elliot render The Hero perfectly charming.
Haunting dreams of The Hero, the gunslinger Hayden played at the height of his of career, punctuate Hayden’s meandering, causing us to reevaluate what it means to be a hero. The film also offers some self-referential commentary to this end: Hayden, offered a big role in an over-the-top space opera, practices the character’s monologue, which concerns rescuing his daughter from evil forces. But being a hero, the film seems to suggest, does not require such a dramatic gesture. Unlike the the heroes Hayden played in his prime, the man behind the character is sad, scared, and self destructive. But reconnecting with his daughter makes him heroic. Being good to his friends makes him heroic. Just getting by makes us heroic.
And the scene in question, the movie-within-a-movie script reading, is the best in the film, and Elliot reads the purposely terrible monologue with such passion, such emotion that Nick Offerman’s reaction was real and unscripted.
The romance between unlikely partners Hayden and Dylan, perhaps the most central plot line, subverts the typical Hollywood affair between a powerful, older man and a vulnerable, young woman. Instead, Hayden plays the vulnerable one, Dylan the one in control. Elliot and Prepon have great on-screen chemistry; the fact that this strange coupling not only works, but strikes something deeply human, serves as a testament to the actors’ abilities.
Unfortunately, The Hero dragged at times, and its slow pacing may understandably turn folks away from this otherwise beautifully shot (somebody promote the DOP!) and well cast film. And sure, it’s not supposed to be some grand adventure—that’s kind of the point—but did feel longer than its runtime.
Even so, fans of Sam Elliot should rush to the theater to see how he shines in a leading role. We screened the film at 92Y on Thursday evening. The film is now playing.
Photo courtesy of Facebook