SXSW 2017: The Hero
In Brett Haley's The Hero, veteran character actor Sam Elliott takes on a rare lead role performance as Lee Hayden, a faded Western film icon who learns he doesn't have much time left to live. Fallen out of the limelight years ago and living a routine life of commercial voiceover work and getting stoned in his empty house, a chance encounter with an intriguing woman (Laura Prepon) and a surprise lifetime achievement honour causes Lee to experience a sudden resurgence in popularity. While desperate to reignite his career, he also decides its important to make amends with his estranged wife (Katharine Ross) and daughter (Krysten Ritter) before its too late.
Coming from the writer-director of 2015's I'll See You in My Dreams, another film where someone late in life gets an unexpected chance to see life in another way, The Hero seems made for the same type of audience, albeit one positioned more closely to the arts/entertainment industry, which greatly factors into the plot here. There are definite echoes of Darren Aronofsky's The Wrestler here, but of a much less aggressive tone, and it's easy to see this becoming a crowdpleaser.
The film is what it is because of Sam Elliott, and whether you remember him best from his earlier work in the 1960s and 70s or his supporting turns in more contemporary films like Tombstone and The Big Lebowski, it's a wonder we haven't seen him cast in a prime, substantial role the way he's used here. Acting as somewhat meta-commentary on his own past as a star of Western films, we get a fantastic performance from Elliott, who is in virtually every single scene, and really makes you feel for the character. His lady friend, Charlotte (played by Prepon), makes for an interesting foil for sure, as the spark that helps relight his life. And some of the best moments come from Lee riffing with Jeremy (Nick Offerman) his buddy-turned-pot dealer who ends up giving him inspiration with his current predicament.
The Hero is a fairly touching dramedy, and has the makings of a summer sleeper hit. While it's not anything truly outstanding for lack of a better word, and more than certainly holds it's weight in modern indie film tropes, it's worth watching if you're a fan of Sam Elliott, past or present.