The Hero | Director: Brett Haley | Rating: 8/10 |
The theme and plot of The Hero isn’t exactly a new one – numerous films have focused on actors coming to terms with their age and morality – but director Brett Haley’s take on the subject is a bit different due to how Sam Elliott carries the film with a melancholic and moving performance. Although the film drags at times and borders on being too sentimental, Elliott’s performance is bound to earn him an Oscar nomination.
The Hero follows Lee Hayden (Elliott), an aging cowboy star of lore. He’s no longer the star of the silver screen: these days he lends his slow drawl to BBQ sauce commercials, but he receives a call from his agent (presuming it’s for a roll when it’s actually for a lame lifetime achievement award) and then another call from his doctor giving him a cancer diagnosis. Lee struggles with the news as he smokes an inordinate amount of weed with his dealer (played by Nick Offerman with the perfect amount of dry wit), hides the news from his estranged daughter (Krysten Ritter), and begins a relationship with Charlotte (“Orange is the New Black’s” Laura Prepon), a woman the same age as his daughter. Lee’s relationship with Charlotte leads to some of the film’s funniest moments, as she accompanies him to the award ceremony as his date and both decide to do ecstasy. Watching Charlotte and Lee interact with his fans is as amusing as Lee’s acceptance speech.
Their relationship hits the inevitable rough patches, primarily due to Charlotte’s career and – of course – the age difference, but while their relationship is sweet at times, it’s also not the most believable. Haley’s script would have benefited from more interaction between Lee and his daughter, as the ‘why’ of their estrangement is never fully fleshed out beyond the general trope of “Dad was never around.” We also never get to see his daughter’s reaction to his new relationship, which would have been an interesting development.
Set against the gorgeous backdrop of Malibu, the film’s cinematography is both a benefit and a deterrent. While the ocean is indeed breathtaking, it would have served the film’s aesthetic to see more of Lee in the desert (since that was his natural element), as well as in other spots of Hollywood (where, for many aging actors, dreams fade away). Despite this caveat, Elliott still carries the emotional weight of the film as he shifts from a rough exterior on the outside to a soft, broken man on the inside. He truly is transformed into Lee Hayden: Famous, torn cowboy, and for that, Elliott deserves recognition.