Sunday, July 9, 2017

THE HERO (2017)

Written by Marc Basch & Brett Haley


Directed by Brett Haley


Where & When: Arclight Cinemas, Hollywood, CA.  June 12, 2017


Sam Elliott has always been one of those underrated actors that have effortlessly uplifted many films with his reliably solid supporting performances. Following a string of television bit parts and dead-on-arrival shows at the start of his career, the actor got his first break as a lead in the 1976 sleeper hit feature, "The Lifeguard", a perfect fit for the West Coast-born actor. With his rich baritone voice, thick bushy mustache and handsome yet weather-worn mug, Elliott has played more than his fair share of cowboys, ranchers, bikers and detectives throughout his time in front of the camera.

The now seventy-one year old Elliott made a dazzling impression a couple of years ago with appearances in two notable films; one was the Paul Weitz comedy-drama, "Grandma" which also put a welcome spotlight back on star Lily Tomlin. The other was "I'll See You In My Dreams" from writer and director, Brett Haley. This hit baby boomer, romantic-drama not only reminded audiences that Blythe Danner is more than just Gwyneth Paltrow's mother, it gave Elliott a chance to play something rather unexpected; a romantic leading man.

This success inspired Haley to write something specifically for Elliott and the result is "The Hero", a Hollywood-set drama about a down-on-his-luck, aging actor seeking one more shot at glory. Haley doesn't let him down with an engaging yet simplistic script that gives him the rare opportunity to carry a film. And Elliott rises to the occasion with an impressive performance that has him displaying a wide range of emotions he doesn't get to do to often.

Elliott plays Lee Hayden, a faded movie star cowboy whose career has become as obsolete as the westerns that used to be a popular Hollywood staple. The only jobs he can now find are lucrative yet creatively unfulfilling voice-over work for commercials. Lee spends much of his downtime drunk, high or both with his drug dealer, Jeremy (Nick Offerman) who was once his co-star in a failed television series, as they eat pizza and reminisce about the past.

After receiving some distressing news from his doctor that he has cancer, Lee's initial response is to tell his family which includes an ex-wife (played by the actor's wife, Katharine Ross who some old enough may remember from "The Graduate" and "Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid") and estranged daughter (Krysten Ritter) yet decides against it, preferring to repair his relationships without the distraction of sympathy.

Lee meets Charlotte (Laura Prepon), an aspiring stand-up comedian, when she drops by Jeremy's to pick-up some product. Sparks fly between them during a bit of flirting but after later running in to each other again (in very L.A. fashion) at a taco stand, the two begin to make a serious connection. That Charlotte is around the age of his daughter is a concern for Lee but she tells him to simply enjoy their time together.

The wide generational gap between Lee and Charlotte never comes across as creepy with the couple having an easy rapport and authentic intimacy. A Hollywood western appreciation organization wants to honor Lee with a lifetime achievement award and asks Charlotte to attend the event with him. She gives a nervous Lee something to help him relax before the ceremony and, in his very relaxed state of mind, delivers a highly irreverent speech that causes him to become a sensation on social media.

Mr. Haley is a modern filmmaker with a nostalgic spirit, making modest dramas with a great appreciation for admired talent that is no longer shiny and new. His approach, however, may be a little too low-key, offering no real weight to the story and fairly predictable plot developments. But despite this shortcoming, Haley certainly knows how to craft an expressive script and able to draw out some fine work from his actors. While his co-stars have brief opportunities to shine, this is clearly Mr. Elliot's show. Soft-spoken and understated, his character may not have much to say yet all of the hurt, frustrations and disappointments in his life are clearly expressed on his weary face.

On the surface, "The Hero" appears to be simply another take of a fallen star seeking attention and redemption before the final curtain closes. But at the heart is a fine, intimate, character-driven story filled with warmth and humor and a masterful turn from Sam Elliott who helps make this more than memorable.