The Hero **

Sam Elliott is perfectly cast as a fading former movie star, but the rest of the movie, like his character’s career, leaves a lot to be desired. 

Is it worth $10? No 

One wonders how many celebrities feel like Lee Hayden in “The Hero,” a washed-up former movie star who had one role he’s proud of 40 years ago and has been coasting ever since. He’s a sad soul, estranged from his daughter and still desperately hoping for one more great performance to validate his career. He passes the days doing voiceovers for commercials, drinking and smoking weed. When he’s diagnosed with pancreatic cancer he has a look of resignation that understands the severity, but also suggests he doesn’t have much to live for. Again, sad.

How Lee (Sam Elliott, perfectly cast) handles this adversity is the crux of co-writer and director Brett Haley’s film, which strives for emotional highs in spite of being a tad underwritten and narratively unlikely. For example, Lee’s time with his buddy/drug dealer Jeremy (Nick Offerman) doesn’t advance the plot, as little they discuss is of consequence. In contrast, Lee’s daughter, Lucy (Krysten Ritter), is integral to the story yet she has notably less screen time than Jeremy. Seems it should be the opposite.

The only person who has an impact on Lee is an aspiring comic named Charlotte (Laura Prepon), who views him as a kindred spirit and helps him enjoy life. How their relationship evolves shouldn’t be revealed here – let it suffice to say it’s not believable.

As Lee avoids his reality in the partial hope that things will magically improve, you quickly get the sense that the movie itself is not going to magically improve. Perhaps I’m not old enough to look back on a lifetime of regret, but as Lee looks back he feels sorry for himself without being willing to face his emotions. The net result is a main character with whom it is difficult to emotionally connect, which means the movie keeps you at bay for far too long. A bit more brutal honesty out of Lee would’ve made both him and the story more compelling.

Another thing that doesn’t help are flashback/dream sequences of Lee, at his current age, acting in scenes from his movie “The Hero,” the aforementioned only film that he’s proud of. These sequences yield nothing, as they don’t reflect the present with meaning, nor is it clear why Lee is remembering these particular moments. Any time a movie uses a flashback it needs to, at some point, provide perspective on the present. These scenes never do.

Really the only highlight of Haley’s “The Hero” is Elliott’s stellar performance, particularly during scenes in which Lee (finally) has an emotional breakdown. Elliott is known for his mustache and deep voice – a manly man second to none – so to see him stretch his acting muscles at the young age of 72 is a welcome sight indeed. If only the script gave him better material to work with throughout rather than at just choice moments.

If you’re a fan of Elliott’s you may take pleasure with the film’s self-awareness, and maybe this combined with his memorable performance will be enough to satisfy you. That’s a big “maybe,” though, and it’s hard to encourage people to see a “maybe” movie.

Did you know?
Katherine Ross, who plays Lee’s ex-wife, in real life has been married to Elliott since 1984. She is best known for playing Elaine in “The Graduate” (1967).

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