The Hero stars Sam Elliott as the aging Western actor Lee Hayden. Sam Elliott is one of the few actors I consider sexy. If you’ve read anything on this blog before, you know that I seldom comment on how sexy some man or other is. But I do with Sam Elliott. Sam Elliott is one of the few actors who could make me watch a movie with a male lead character. Spoilers ahead.
I suppose those things are true because I’m old and Sam Elliott is old. I can’t keep younger male actors sorted.
Sam’s been in his share of Westerns, but his career hasn’t followed the path that Lee Hayden’s career took. Lee is remembered for basically one film called The Hero from 40 years ago.
Lee spends his days smoking pot and hanging out with an actor friend Jeremy (Nick Offerman). Jeremy keeps him in weed and they sit around stoned together a great deal of the time. One day Charlotte (Laura Prepon) stops by to buy some drugs. She flirts with Lee a bit. He flirts back a bit.
Lee gets two pieces of news at about the same time. One: he has cancer. Two: he’s getting a lifetime achievement award from some rinky dink Western appreciation society.
He invites Charlotte to go to the awards with him. She gives him Molly as they are driving there and he goes a bit crazy in his acceptance speech. By the time the night is over, Lee and Charlotte are in bed together.
The video of his acceptance speech goes viral and he gets job offers for the first time in years. Well, he does commercials. He uses that voice of his to sell barbecue sauce. (Not Dodge Rams, barbecue sauce.) Now he gets a script for a real part in a blockbuster.
Lee has an ex-wife Val played by his real wife Katharine Ross. He has a daughter Lucy (Krysten Ritter). He has trouble telling them about his cancer diagnosis. His relationship with Lucy is bad. He hasn’t seen her in ages and doesn’t even know where she works. He makes a dinner date with her and doesn’t show up because he’s out of his head on mushrooms.
Lee is asked to audition for the role in the blockbuster. The lines he has to read are about a father and a daughter. He can’t get through the audition. He starts crying in the middle of the scene.
And he’s sleeping with Charlotte. She claims she likes older men. She seems sincere in this, although Lee initially thought the two of them were a weird combination. He tells her about the cancer. She insists he tell his family, and he finally does.
The best scene in the film for me was the conversation Lee and his daughter Lucy had after he told her he was sick. They were standing on a windy hill overlooking the beach where Lee lived. Lucy didn’t know how to react to him or what he expected from her. Did he want a reconciliation? She talked about how distant he was during her childhood, about how she thought it was her fault. Lee looked at her like she was some kind of specimen in a zoo. He leaned away from her and squinted at her as if he didn’t recognize what he was seeing.
Krysten Ritter and Sam Elliott were mesmerizing in that scene. She’s so different here from the way she is in Jessica Jones, a different voice, different carriage. For him, body language said far more that words. This exchange had more emotional depth than any other scene in the film.
With Sam Elliott, you always have the same hair, the same overgrown mustache, the same distinctive voice – no matter the part. As Lee, he turned out the light in his eyes for most of the film to play a sad and dying man. He came alive around his fans at the awards ceremony. He came alive with Charlotte, but cautiously. He stared at the ocean blindly as he tried to come to terms with his own mortality. He looked up the survival rate for his disease. He studied images of the type of surgery his doctor suggested. He thought about it all for long periods of time.
There were parts of The Hero that bothered me. Lee had several stoned dreams about his character in a Western. He kept seeing a hanged man, he kept drawing his gun on some enemy. The symbolism was not subtle and the dreams were an interruption. There were also lots of shots of waves breaking on the beach, which seemed overused to me.
Charlotte claimed to like older men. She seemed sincerely interested in Lee. The chemistry between them was believable. She was a stand up comedienne. She did a routine of jokes about sex with an older man that were cruel and tone deaf. If we were meant to believe that this gorgeous young woman really cared about Lee, it was impossible after hearing her make jokes about him.
I wanted The Hero to be a great film. It wasn’t. It was a good film, worth watching. The cast was outstanding.
The Hero is available on Hulu and from Amazon Video.