Susan Granger’s review of “The Hero” (The Orchard)
Sam Elliott has never stopped working in films, ever since he made his debut with Paul Newman and Robert Redford in “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” (1969). And – in real life – it’s Sam Elliott who eventually married their co-star Katharine Ross.
In “The Hero,” Elliott plays veteran actor Lee Hayden, whose biggest hit was a cowboy film in the 1970s. Lee’s only job these days is doing voice-overs – in his distinctive, smoky baritone – for commercials, like “Lone Star Bar-Be-Cue sauce, the perfect partner for yer chicken…”
Living alone in a small house in Malibu, Lee is turning 71 – and has just been told that he’s got pancreatic cancer. Divorced and alienated from his resentful, now-adult daughter Lucy (Krysten Ritter), Lee spends time with his drug-peddling neighbor/friend/former co-star Jeremy (Nick Offerman).
That’s where he meets flirtatious 35 year-old Charlotte (Laura Prepon), who immediately latches onto Lee, explaining that she has a ‘thing’ for older men, along with the poetry of Edna St. Vincent Millay.
So Lee asks Charlotte to accompany him to a banquet at which he’ll receive a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Western Appreciation and Preservation Guild.
Mixing Ecstasy in their champagne in the back of the limo en route to the dinner, they both get high, which explains why Lee gives a perplexing acceptance speech which, inexplicably, “goes viral” on the Internet, leading to an onslaught of offers and a potentially big audition.
Empathetically co-written by Marc Basch and director Brett Haley (“I’ll See You in My Dreams”), it’s about resilience in the face of mortality, and it has a special resonance for those who have ever tried to succeed in mercurial show business.
Propelling every scene, Sam Elliott delivers an understated, yet Oscar-caliber performance, and it’s fun to spot Katharine Ross in a small part as Lee’s ex-wife.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “The Hero” is a compassionate 7, drenched with melancholy.