(Photo via The Orchard)
Sam Elliot gives what may be the finest performance of his career in The Hero. The macho western look that Elliot has encompassed for his entire career feels as if its left the theater for an hour and a half in this quiet, sad, and often funny character study. Co-writer/director Brett Haley (I’ll See You In My Dreams) could’ve easily made this a cynical look at what Hollywood can do to a man for just one role, but the film ends up ditching most of the show business part and focuses on the characters, particularly this one. The Hero opens in theaters later this summer, and I hope you’ll go and check it out when it hits your area.
Sam Elliot plays Lee Hayden, an aging movie star best known for one western that he did years ago called “The Hero”, where he played the titular character. Early on in the film, Lee gets a diagnosis that his cancer is spreading and that he doesn’t have much longer to live. With the little time that Lee has left, he tries to salvage the broken relationship he has with his ex-wife (Katharine Ross) and their daughter Lucy (Krysten Ritter). In the middle of all of this, Lee ends up meeting a younger woman in Charlotte (Laura Prepon), a comedian that he meets through Lee’s drug dealer/friend (Nick Offerman).
While the film can be pretty funny at times, this is not a comedy. It treats the mortality and vulnerability that Lee has with such grace, and Brett Haley does a great job in portraying that on the screen and on the pages. Elliot, who’s in every scene of the film, conveys so much just by sitting there either smoking a joint or staring off into the mountains of Southern California that surrounds his home. It’s safe to say that this is a Sam Elliot performance that we haven’t seen before, and I love it. It might be too early to mention awards consideration for his performance, but I’m hoping that this movie reaches a wide enough audience and that Elliot’s performance won’t be forgotten.
While there are supporting characters in the film, they don’t really spend a whole lot of time on-screen compared to Elliot. Prepon spends probably the most time on screen as Lee’s love interest, and she’s pretty good in the film. There’s a really funny sequence between the two of them were they go to an awards ceremony while on drugs, and that was one of the more memorable parts of the film. Nick Offerman also does some great work as Lee’s stoner buddy who use to work with him on a once-forgotten western TV show. Their chemistry is really terrific, and a bit of a detour for Offerman judging by the two’s performances on Parks and Rec, when Elliot guest-starred as the hippie doppelgänger to Offerman’s Ron Swanson. Krysten Ritter was good, even though she’s only in a handful of scenes in the film. And it was great to see Katharine Ross in a movie again, even though her role is basically a glorified cameo, but she was great in her two scenes.
There were a few nitpicks with the film that I had, like there’s one subplot about Prepon’s comedy that could potentially be a huge problem for the characters but doesn’t really end up going anywhere. I also felt a little bit of the showbiz aspects of the film might’ve been shoe-horned in just to prove that Lee was in fact a big deal once, but honestly the film could’ve done without some of those sequences. Elliot’s performance is so powerful and his character is so nuanced that it would’ve made up for those one or two sequences.
They’re very tiny nitpicks, but hopefully they don’t disparage you from seeing The Hero when it’s released. It’s a very well made movie with a career-best performance by Sam Elliot. The film is expected to get a nationwide release later in the summer (sometime in July I believe), and I recommend you check this one out as you’ll probably need a break from all the big-dumb blockbusters coming out. This was a great film to start SXSW this year for me (judging by the reviews of Song to Song, which premiered last night as well, I made the wise choice in skipping that film for this one). This is going to be a great year for SXSW Film, and I look forward to bringing you more coverage as the fest rolls on.