Director Brett Haley (I’ll See You in My Dreams) takes a theme from his previous film of an older person trying to reach contentment, in “The Hero” about an aging western actor attempting joy and stability.
Sam Elliott stars as Lee Hayden, a kind of Clint Eastwood type, who wishes to do something creative with his life. Elliott does very well in this part, he is earnest and sensitive, and his voice and bearing are perfect. The only fault is the film does not really break any new ground about life, aging or reveal any surprises about what makes Hayden unique. Rather, the film makes a universal point that an aging human is in an existential position, whether or not he or she is a famous actor.
Lee has a third rate job doing commercials for a barbecue sauce. He has not had steady work in years and he is growing tired of the tedium. He often breaks the boredom by going to the house of his former co-star, who is now a small time drug dealer, Jeremy (Nick Offerman), and smoke pot. Lee begins to get dreams of himself as a cowboy once more and he entertains the idea of making his own film.
Lee’s slow life is thrown an upsetting curve ball, when he learns he has pancreatic cancer, but rather than fixate on this, Lee pushes the diagnosis into the desert landscape of his subconscious.
At Jeremy’s house, Lee meets the enigmatic, somewhat wild and quite younger Charlotte (Laura Prepon) a stand-up comedian.
They have an instant rapport. Lee is delighted as is Charlotte and the iconic cowboy mustache gets frisky in no time. The romance hits a big bump, however, when Lee discovers that he is being used for some sarcastic and personal jokes during Charlotte’s comedy bit.
Charlotte apologizes and Lee tells her his bad news. She urges this sweet yet silent man to tell his family.
The three principal actors: Elliot, Prepon and Offerman do an excellent job. It is only that the story doesn’t go anywhere very compelling or different. Lee tries to make amends with his icy daughter (Krysten Ritter). All is well and good.
As Charlotte is unconventional and quirky, one is led to think that this ‘Marlboro Man’ of marijuana will rightly go into a painted desert and join a circus of great festivity. And though Lee drawls in neutral and the audience may hunger for more of a gallop, devotees of Sam Elliot will be satisfied by the emotion and authenticity that this seasoned actor gives to his role.
In watching “The Hero”, it will certainly be enough for some (but not all) to see a septuagenarian Western actor nod knowingly and wince, delivering a slow and humble smile.
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