Sam Elliott is 'The Hero'

Jul. 5, 2017
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“Lone Star BBQ—The Perfect Partner for Your Chicken,” Lee Hayden insists. A movie star in the 1970s, Lee (Sam Elliott) is reduced to doing voice work for commercials. He keeps impatience in check when the unseen producer asks him to repeat that “perfect partner” line—over and over again.

Lee, the protagonist of The Hero, is living comfortably in a tidy house in the Hollywood hills but hasn’t seen much screen work in years. The semi-retired legend softens the pain of his decline with booze and pot. His ex-wife is cordial enough but his daughter fumes with the bitterness endemic to children of creative people who charge their parents with neglect. Back in the day, Lee treated his movie roles as offspring and his daughter as furniture for the house.

And then comes the terrible appointment in the doctor’s office and the bad news: the biopsy shows cancer. Lee tells no one, not his agent or even his best friend, pot dealer and fellow cineaste, Jeremy (Nick Offerman). He also fails to tell the much younger woman who unexpectedly steps into his life, a stand-up comedian, Charlotte (Laura Prepon).

Directed by Brett Haley, whose previous film, I’ll See You in My Dreams, also addressed aging and contained Elliott in the cast, The Hero’s weaknesses include some slack pacing and a needlessly saccharine musical score, which lends unwanted melodrama to certain scenes. The Hero’s strength, aside from refusing the easy path of tying its conclusion in a neat ribbon and bow, is its star.

Marvelously cast, Elliott wears an expression wavering between amused and bemused. His character is a larger than life figure from Hollywood’s rebellious ‘70s, shrunken slightly by age and diminished by a changing world. His voice slathers every syllable with Texas barbeque; he’s imbued with the gravelly wisdom of a man who saw it all back then and survived through a combination of good luck and shrewdness. Elliott takes Lee through the boredom of coasting on empty, the exuberance of love’s possibility reawakening with Charlotte, the pain of recognizing himself in her stand-up routine and the agony of facing his own failures. Prepon is a decent supporting actor but Charlotte’s part is more thinly imagined than Lee’s. The Hero belongs to its star.

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