Movie: THE HERO
Rating: R, drug use, language and some sexual content
Release Date: June 9, 2017
Jeanne: Writer/director Brett Haley created the character of Lee Hayden specifically for Sam Elliott, who had starred opposite Blythe Danner in "I'll See You in My Dreams" (2015), Haley's second feature film. "The Hero" is a wonderful vehicle for Elliott --- a superb opportunity to showcase that husky, smooth voice and his underappreciated acting chops.
Lee Hayden (Elliott) spends his days --- and most nights --- drinking hard liquor and smoking dope with his one-time co-star, Jeremy (Nick Offerman). He and Jeremy were on a short-lived TV Western, and now Jeremy supplies Lee with all of his drugs. There is the occasional voice-over work for Lee, but he dreams of making one last big film, especially after the dire diagnosis he receives from his doctor.
Long-divorced from his wife, Valarie (real-life wife Katharine Ross), and estranged from their daughter, Lucy (Krysten Ritter), Lee's life is empty and devoid of purpose. A chance encounter with one of Jeremy's "customers", Charlotte (Laura Prepon), and a Lifetime Achievement Award from a little-known Western society, upends Lee's daily existence, causing him to reconsider his options.
As I stated, this is a terrific role for Elliott. According to Haley, he and Sam became very close friends when they were touring together to promote "I'll See You in My Dreams". Haley vowed that he and his co-writer, Marc Basch, would script a "leading man" part for Sam, which led to "The Hero".
Though the screenplay does contain a few minor flaws, overall the story and the characters are engrossing and engaging. Elliott is truly a gifted thespian, mustache and silky voice aside. He and Offerman have an especially moving scene, which is totally unexpected. And Haley could not have chosen a better sidekick for Elliott than Offerman. They are splendid together, and "The Hero" could have used more of just the two of them.
The fault of this film lies with Elliott and Prepon --- and I'm not referring to their age difference. Charlotte is a stand-up comedienne --- no problem there --- until she uses her new-found relationship with Lee as material for her act. It comes off as inordinately cruel and not even remotely funny. Prepon, herself, is fine, however the chemistry between her and Elliott is sketchy at best.
For those of us women who have been a little in love with Sam Elliott all these years, "The Hero" should be on your "See It Now!" list. And I know quite a few Offerman fans are out there, too, so perhaps a smaller indie film is a better choice than a summer blockbuster.
Opinion: See It Now!
David: Lee Hayden (Sam Elliott) is dealing with a variety of personal demons. He's essentially a washed-up Western movie star relegated to doing commercial voice-overs for barbecue sauce. In fact. "The Hero" opens with a close-up of Lee being instructed by the commercial's producer to repeat his one phrase over and over --- with hilarious results --- for the moviegoer, not for Lee.
Lee is divorced from Valarie (Katharine Ross, yes that Katharine Ross from "The Graduate", and Elliott's real-life wife), and is estranged from their 34-year-old daughter, Lucy (Krysten Ritter). He smokes pot constantly, accompanied by large amounts of whiskey, most often with his close friend Jeremy Frost (Nick Offerman) --- eliciting laugh-out-loud moments.
But worst of all, Lee is diagnosed with incurable pancreatic cancer. To the film's credit, rather than hit us over the head with obvious questions like how much time does he have left, we watch as Lee consults a probability chart --- on his iPhone --- for patients with his type of cancer in various stages, and their likely life expectancies. Despite this deluge of problems assaulting Lee, "The Hero" is a movie that is all about hope.
Director Brett Haley ("I'll See You in My Dreams" (2015), his first collaboration with Elliott), co-wrote this script along with Marc Basch, who also co-wrote "Dreams". "The Hero" could have devolved into a maudlin melodramatic heap, but the writing by these two scribes has Lee handling his life challenges realistically and sympathetically.
Meanwhile, while Lee avoids telling anyone close to him about his illness, he meets Charlotte Dylan (Laura Prepon, "Orange is the New Black"), one of weed-supplier Jeremy's customers. Despite their obvious age difference --- he's 71 and she's "older than his daughter" --- sparks are evident, and the two actors share a fabulous rapport on screen. Prepon is delightful in every scene, displaying her winning smile, and making us believe she has real affection for this man who could be her father. They are perfect casting choices for this coupling.
Charlotte accompanies Lee to a dinner where he is presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award --- not from the Academy --- from a small organization in L.A. His acceptance speech brought guffaws from our screening audience, particularly when he invites an unsuspecting attendee (Patrika Darbo, hilarious in a brief stint) to join him on stage. Old friend Max Gail (TV's "Barney Miller") is the emcee for the event.
So with renewed energy, Lee auditions for a major role in a new film that promises to be a blockbuster. It's one of the more uncomfortably excruciating scenes in this comedy-drama, especially since Lee apparently memorized his lines perfectly while rehearsing with Jeremy, a sequence that brings Jeremy to tears. Offerman, on the heels of a very good dramatic performance in last year's "The Founder", proves again he can handle any role. And Mr. Elliott offers his usual relaxed nonchalance --- even when his character is in a perturbed mode --- once again making it look easy.
Long-deceased poet Edna St. Vincent Millay is turning joyfully in her grave because Charlotte presents Lee with an anthology of her works, reading to him one in particular about not being resigned to his fate. It's the most poignant moment in a simple but absorbing movie about two ordinary people struggling to find meaning and happiness in their lives.
Opinion: See It Now!