The Hero Movie Review
Sam Elliott is Lee Hayden, an aging actor trying to come to terms with his mortality and his relevance as an actor. THE HERO opens with Lee in a sound booth recording a voiceover for a barbecue commercial – not much different than Elliott’s real life voiceover commercials for Ford, Chevy, and Dodge Ram Trucks or the U.S. Beef Council. Lee says the line a few times and is asked to do it again from the producer’s voice over the intercom. Again and again, Lee continues to repeat the barbecue promotion with his deep, western voice, but his face with gray hair and a thick mustache, conveys a message of exhaustion, sadness, and defeat. Lee asks if they got it… “Can you do one more?”
The opening scene sets up the character in THE HERO and his story masterfully. Unfortunately his story isn’t as compelling. While Sam Elliott’s performance is powerful, similar to his character’s problems, the material can’t match his talent.
The problem is the direction they chose to go with the character. As an actor well past his prime, Elliott understands Lee perfectly. He is realizing that he has given up a relationship with his daughter in pursuit of a career that has ultimately only landed him one role that he is proud of and remembered for, an old western called THE HERO. No longer able to get any meaningful roles, Lee spends most of his time getting high with his drug dealer, an old actor friend named Jeremy played by Nick Offerman. Much like there brief stint together on ‘Parks and Rec’, Elliott and Offerman have great chemistry but not much comes from their limited scenes.
After discovering he has cancer, Lee reaches out to his adult daughter (Krysten Ritter) who he rarely sees. Full of regret, he seemingly hopes to mend that relationship. But as soon as he sets a dinner date with her, he misses it for selfish reasons. Through Jeremy, Elliott meets a much younger woman played by Laura Prepon. The two strike up a rather creepy love relationship, which shifts the focus from the more important subject in Lee’s life, his daughter. Not liking a choice the character makes is not what’s wrong with THE HERO, although this one is quite deplorable. Sometimes not agreeing is a normality in life that can still lead to interesting stories and life lessons. The problem is that story becomes uninteresting and Lee’s life lesson should be happening right now. While these events might be true to life, I’m not sure THE HERO covers the topic in a manner that makes it worth telling. Director Brett Haley, who co-wrote the screenplay with Marc Basch, chooses long deliberate pauses and vague dream sequences, searching for deeper drama but this observation of a troubled soul is no MANCHESTER BY THE SEA.
Outside of being a near carbon copy story from 2008’s THE WRESTLER (replace aging wrestler with aging actor and subtract visionary director Darren Aronofsky), there are a couple of nice scenes, specifically when Lee goes to accept a lifetime achievement award from a small cowboy organization. But most of the film is filled with looks of sadness and longing, without earning any of the audience investment. The humor is quaint and Sam Elliott delivers a quiet emotion reinforcing that he has strong dramatic chops As usual his charm and charisma oozes through the screen.
At one point Lee discovers the metaphor for success through the tip of an iceberg explanation; most people are unaware of how big the unseen stuff underneath is that lifted us there. My main problem is that THE HERO tries to excuse the character’s flawed choice of sacrificing a relationship with his daughter by spending more time with the new love interest. Much like the character, the film chooses to focus on the superficial relationship over the one that matters. But like Lee says, he is not the hero.