Starring Sam Elliott, Laura Prepon, Nick Offerman, Krysten Ritter, Katharine Ross
Not to diminish Sam Elliott’s performance in his new film The Hero, but writer/director Brett Haley creates a vehicle for the iconic actor that’s strikingly comparable with Crazy Heart. Haley cast Elliott in 2015’s I’ll See You in My Dreams, playing against type. That film, Haley’s best accomplishment to date, created a bond between the two artists. Their collaboration on ‘Dreams’ inspired the script for The Hero, which is specifically tailored for Elliott. “Similar to my life, except I don’t do drugs, and I love my wife and daughter very much,” Elliott said while promoting the film. The structure of The Hero and 'Dreams' are both pictures that take supporting acting talent and give them their deserved leading role.
“Lone Star BBQ sauce…” Simple, slow, gruff words that voice actor Lee Hayden (Elliott) effortlessly breathes into a microphone during his latest commercial gig. At 71-years-old, Lee’s doctor hasn’t given him a good health report. In conversation, he claims he’s only proud of one film in his long repertoire. Tired from life’s struggle, the busy life of a Hollywood actor, he needs to set his affair’s in order. His drug use from next door neighbor and dealer Jeremy Frost (Offerman) increases with the cancerous news. He decides to attend a lifetime achievement ceremony from some rag-tag western appreciation society, but takes more serious drugs with his new young friend Charlotte (Prepon) to liven his mood. Desperate to rebuild the relationship with his daughter (Ritter) and find a swan song role, Lee drowns in self-pity facing his mortality. “Give me a chance to write another chapter.”
It will be Elliott’s first chance at an Oscar nomination and could provide the gruff white-haired performer with a career resurgence.
There is a scene in the film where Lee is reading lines for a new fantasy film he’s to audition for. What Elliott does in this scene specifically, showcases his talent as an actor beyond any of the others. It’s a moment that stands still outside everything else happening in the story. He makes you want to see this imaginary flick, and the way Haley captures him delivering dialogue is striking. The Hero (which refers to Lee Hayden’s most popular western flick) is a spotlight on an actor and film presence that has entertained us for years. It will be Elliott’s first chance at an Oscar nomination and could provide the gruff white-haired performer with a career resurgence. “Movies are other people’s dreams,” Lee says. If nothing else, Haley is becoming an expert at writing original material for seasoned actors in their 70’s who otherwise wouldn’t get the opportunity.
Unfortunately, Haley’s script almost mirrors 2009 flick Crazy Heart that won Jeff Bridges his deserved first Academy Award. Both stories find washed up entertainers, falling for much younger woman, while battling addiction and looking for a comeback. I did admire what Prepon (That 70’s Show) did with this role, her dark, sultry and devious behavior is entirely different than Maggie Gyllenhaal’s role in Crazy Heart. The Hero is set on a much smaller budget, and dealing with an actor, versus musician, doesn’t find the opportunities to be as entertaining or rousing. It’s beautifully shot, especially in scenes featuring the California coast. Yet, The Hero isn’t as inviting as Haley’s ‘Dreams’, a picture that was more lighthearted, emotional and could resonate with a wider audience. It’s also not very original, there isn’t anything here we can’t find elsewhere, apart from Elliott in the lead.
Elliott gets moment in the spotlight for a film demanding awards attention for his lifetime of work.