Friday, June 23
REVIEW: The Hero
Directed by Brett Haley
1 hour 33 minutes
From The Orchard
Sam Elliott is the entire focus of this indie drama about a man staring down a death sentence from cancer. For those of us who love this actor, this is not only one of his very best performances but one of his best opportunities. While he is always memorable in everything he does, don't you think that most of his roles are too small? I have wanted him to be showcased like he is in this film for so long... and if you have, too, trust me, this is one you shouldn't miss. It's a glorious performance.
Elliott plays Lee Hayden, a western movie actor whose career has slipped off the radar for some time. He very much wants to make another comeback movie but finds himself doing tiresome voice-over commercials. He smokes a lot of weed, mostly with his supplier/friend and a former costar (Offerman), and has a good relationship with his ex-wife (real-life, longtime spouse Ross) and a fractured one with his daughter (Ritter). Around the time he takes up with a lively stand-up comic (Prepon), whom he meets at the supplier's pad, he finds out his days are numbered.
The film is about how Lee handles his life after receiving the devastating news. We see the kind of man he is in a number of good scenes such as receiving a life-time achievement award for western actors, tense scenes with his daughter, listening to his new girlfriend describe their relationship in her comic routine, funny scenes with his buddy, an audition and touching scenes with a new galpal who wants him to face up to the short life he has left.
We've all seen movies dealing with imminent death stories and in that regard there's not so much new in this outing. I do not, however, think it deserves (at all!) the raking over the coals it has received from some reviewers although I cannot deny Elliott is better than the film itself. I brushed up against some emotions hearing how many things Lee has in common with Elliott. They speak of Lee's voice, that deep, molasses-thick, western drawl, his push-broom mustache, his popularity in mainly 1970s-80s westerns. And of course, the reference to Lee doing voice-overs is pure Elliott. It would seem that director-cowriter Haley either knows Elliott and/or fashioned a screenplay based on the actor.
In the story Lee turns 72, the same age as the actor himself. Some may have the same eerie feeling that I had... that it all sometimes seemed like I was beginning to mourn Elliott's death rather than the fictional Lee and it felt very sad.
It had to have been a very personal role for Elliott and its touching nature is most apparent to anyone watching this heartfelt performance. There were numerous flashback scenes watching Lee perform in his last great western, called The Hero, and one is reminded that no one dons western garb any better than Sam Elliott. No one. Stay home Duke, Coop, Stewart, Scott, McCrea and all the others. For my bucks, Sam Elliott looks like he jumped right off the pages of those old dime western novellas.
This is definitely an art house film (like it or not) and those long pauses just watching someone's face are in evidence but what's so bad when that face belongs to Sam Elliott? I can't imagine a more masculine actor or one with a better voice and he wears 72 better than most. He is asked to do more as The Hero than in most of his films. He still expresses himself with an economy of words but the facial expressions are what turns this man into such a good visual actor. And he even cries... sobs, really. Yes, Sam Elliott. It will be interesting to see if any male actor tops this performance this year for me.
All the supporting performances are good as well. Perhaps I was most taken with Offerman because he provided the film with most of its lighter moments. Ritter is new to me and Prepon almost as new. She had a role in The Girl on the Train but I have tried pretty successfully blocking that from my memory. Ross was fine but her two-scene role didn't offer much to chew on. Still it was fun seeing her again and both of her scenes were with her husband. I couldn't help but wonder what it would be like to be in the same movie with a husband who is making out with another (and much younger) actress. Oh, those Hollywood folks.
I can't wait for the dvd. It can keep company on my shelves with Lifeguard. (Don't get me started.)
Jack in the 70s