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The hero  2017 film
The Hero
First run Theater cinema

In The Hero  Sam Elliott stars as Lee Hayden, an aging Hollywood actor best known for one iconic Western role he played many decades ago. Now in his seventies, most of Lee’s gigs involve lending his distinctive, sonorous drawl to commercials. The rest of his time is spent smoking weed with a former co-star (Nick Offerman) who gave up acting to become a dealer.  But Lee is forced to come to terms with the muddle he’s made of his life when his doctor gives him some bad news and he begins a romance with a young stand-up comic (Laura Prepon). 

The Hero is writer-director Brett Haley’s follow up to his acclaimed I'll See You in My Dreams (2015), which gave the then seventy-one year old Blythe Danner one of the best roles of her long career.  Elliott co-starred in that picture as Danner’s love interest. It was one of several appealing, grizzled, septuagenarian lovers the veteran character actor has played in recent years—notably in Grandma (2015) and the Netflix series Grace and Frankie.  Clearly, Haley had such a great time working with Elliott on I'll See You in My Dreams that he decided to create another showcase for an older actor, and built a story around Elliott’s screen persona. Thus this supporting player of countless cowboy, biker, cop, and Civil War roles finally gets to play a romantic lead.

It’s impossible not to enjoy watching Elliott saunter through his late-career star vehicle. He’s been a welcome presence on the silver screen ever since the opening scene of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969). But Haley and co-writer Marc Basch don’t create as layered or dimensional a character here as they did for Danner in I'll See You in My Dreams. Lee Hayden doesn’t have a whole lot of depth to him, and Elliott is given precious few moments to stretch his talent beyond our expectations of what he’s capable of. Not that we need to see him weep uncontrollably or trash a hotel room—great acting more often comes from quiet stillness—but we don’t get the sense that Lee’s got all that much going on behind his cool, laconic charm. 

Despite its shortcomings, The Hero proves that you can't overdose on Sam Elliott. We never tire of trying to guess if he’s straight-faced or secretly grinning behind his thick, horseshoe moustache. And the film’s opening scene illustrates why his unmistakable baritone was the perfect conduit for countless commercial slogans like, “Beef, It’s what’s for dinner,” or catchphrases like, “The Dude Abides,” which his character The Stranger memorably drawls at the end of The Big Lebowski (1998). Every moment in which Elliott is alone on screen is mesmerizing. And even though of the rest of the movie is riddled with clichés, he’s such a generous scene partner we still get interested in watching them play out.

His scenes with Prepon contain just enough edge to make them rise above the script contrivances, as do those between Elliott and his real-life wife Katharine Ross. Even Offerman is surprisingly good here. We might expect the self-conscious, hammy, larger-than-life actor—I usually find Offerman unbearable on the big screen—to make an awkward sidekick for the confident, laid-back Elliott, but the two famously mustachioed actors clearly enjoy working together and it translates to on-screen chemistry. Similarly, the palpable sense that the entire cast had a relaxed, convivial time making this slight but entertaining picture wafts over us like a pleasant contact high.

Twitter Capsule:
Despite its shortcomings, Haley’s follow up to I'll See You in My Dreams proves you can’t overdose on Sam Elliott.

Directed by Brett Haley
Produced by Sam Bisbee, Houston King, and Erik Rommesmo

Written by Brett Haley and Marc Basch

With: Sam Elliott, Laura Prepon, Krysten Ritter, Nick Offerman, and Katharine Ross

Cinematography: Rob Givens
Editing: Brett Haley
Music: Keegan DeWitt

Runtime: 93 min
Release Date: 09 June 2017
Aspect Ratio: 2.35 : 1