Whether it’s that classic mustache or that unmistakable voice brimming with gravel and grit, Sam Elliott is a true old school icon in Hollywood. His latest film The Hero screened at SXSW 2017 and we hope to see Sam in many movies to come – but man, what a cherry on top this film is to the actor’s legacy.
While not exactly an autobiographical film, The Hero was absolutely written for Sam Elliott by screenwriters Brett Haley and Marc Basch. Elliott plays Lee Hayden, an aging Western movie star with a golden voice reduced to doing advertising voiceover work, as the best days of his career are decades behind him.
Lee spends his free time smoking weed and drinking whiskey while pining over his lost glory days until a trip to his doctor reveals he has a late stage pancreatic cancer, with very limited time left on this Earth. In shock, Lee seeks solace with his neighbor/friend/weed dealer Jeremy (Nick Offerman), where a chance encounter in his living room with younger gal Charlotte (Laura Prepon) puts Lee on the path to acceptance of his life and mortality.
Since The Hero was essentially written for Elliott, the responsibility falls squarely on him to carry the movie – which he most impressively accomplishes. Elliott is funny, sad, empathetic and admirable all with that incredibly cool swagger in an award-worthy performance. There’s quite a bit of heart in both the film and Elliott’s performance that’s touching and sincere adding an authenticity to the story.
The supporting cast also pulls their own weight, including the scene-stealing Offerman. His chemistry with Elliott is superb and I would gladly watch these two actors share more screen time in any film. Laura Prepon is given a somewhat thankless role as Lee’s stand-up comedian love interest. The character is given some pretty tough scenes that could easily have made another actress in the role come across as callous and unlikable but she manages to come out the other side a still redeemable gal worthy of Lee’s affection.
Krysten Ritter also has a small role as Lee’s daughter Lucy, but the film never gives you full sense of who this person is and why she is in the film, other than a plot device for Lee to reconcile with, but Ritter does give a nice performance in her scenes with Elliott. Katharine Ross is in a similar situation as Lee’s ex-wife, but also makes the best of her minimal screen time and material.
Director Brett Haley does a fine job with steering the film away from any polarizing character moments while also making some terrific visual choices to accentuate Lee’s mental state. The creeping sound of the ocean plays a continual theme throughout along with some well done dream sequences involving Lee’s most famous film, also titled The Hero.
Outstanding performances from the lead cast elevate The Hero from a quiet character flick to something a bit more special. There’s obviously a lot of love put it into this film by its talent in front of and behind the camera and in a situation of life imitating art, Elliott should get all the attention and praise he deserves from this film.