Published Jun 22, 2017Life and legacy are the two main themes confronted in filmmaker Brett Haley's third full-length feature The Hero, the story of a washed-up American western star — played by veteran character actor Sam Elliott — that weirdly mirrors part of its lead's own past.
A 71-year-old who spends most of his days smoking pot with his drug dealer and former co-star (Nick Offerman) and providing voiceovers for a barbecue sauce brand, Lee Hayden (Elliott) is shaken to his core when doctors discover he has a grave health condition.
But things start to turn around once he pops some Molly with a mysterious new acquaintance almost half his age (Orange is the New Black's Laura Prepon) and gives a stirring (if a little all over the place) speech while accepting a lifetime achievement award at an annual award show for western stars.
When a clip of the speech goes viral online, suddenly he's the talk of Hollywood, getting offered roles in big budget YA sci-fi franchises. As time goes by, he realizes the lack of success eluding the latter half of his life wasn't the reason for his problems (a devastating divorce and distant daughter, played by Krysten Ritter, among them).
Much like his titular character, Elliott is the hero of this picture. Although younger generations likely know him for his one-off performances on Parks and Recreation, appearance in The Big Lebowski and as the voice of Dodge Ram trucks on TV, in reality, Elliott has a storied career that deserves a second look. All of it culminates here, as Elliott delivers a tear-jerking performance filled with understated beauty that adds weight to balance out some of the film's fluffier moments.
Overall, The Hero's story isn't all that memorable (you've probably seen parts of it in other independent dramas over the past few years), but Elliott delivers a performance that won't be easily forgotten.