The Hero ATLFF Movie Review
Film is reviewed from the 2017 Atlanta Film Festival screening.
We first see Lee Hayden (Sam Elliott) inside a recording studio. He is saying the identical tag line about a barbecue sauce several times into a microphone. Someone in the booth keeps telling Lee to say the line again, even though they all sound exactly the same. Lee has an iconic voice, and you can see why he might be in demand to taglines on commercials.
We next see Lee in a doctor’s office nervously waiting for the doctor to appear. When the doctor finally enters the room and tells Lee that it’s not the result that they wanted. We cut to Lee in his car; he daydreams about a movie he wants to make. It’s a western and Lee is walking across a field; he walks up to what must be a tree, as we see the boots of a man that has obviously been hanged, as the legs sway a little from the help from the wind. We cut back to the car, and Lee calls his agent. He’s told the only thing available is a lifetime achievement award from some sort of western film society.
We next see Lee looking at his phone on treatments for his type of cancer, and it’s not good. He searches for his pot and only finds empty baggies. We next see him pound on the door of his neighbor. His pot dealer and good friend Jeremy (Nick Offerman) opens the door, perturbed because Lee knocked like a cop would. It’s obvious from the patter back and forth that these two friends have known each other for a long time. Lee asks for an ounce, to which Jeremy proclaims is too much that it will clean him out. Lee and Jeremy settle in to watch a Buster Keaton silent film and smoke some pot. Jeremy can tell that Lee has some news and presses his friend for the scoop. Lee hesitates and then tells the lie that he is going to make a western.
We cut to much later in the day, and it’s obvious that Lee and Jeremy have spent the afternoon smoking and eating. Jeremy is passed out on the couch, and Lee is looking at Jeremy’s laptop when someone knocks at the door. Lee wakes Jeremy up to answer the door. A woman is let in and introduces herself as Charlotte (Laura Prepon), as Jeremy goes into the next room to get some sort of drug for her. Charlotte recognizes Lee but can’t quite figure out who he is. As Lee is also sizing up Charlotte, we realize that these two just might be interested in each other. It’s a meeting that is going to change both of their lives.
I loved this film, having seen it at both the SXSW Film Festival and the Atlanta Film Festival. Sam Elliott is masterful as the actor who is known for one iconic film, a western called The Hero that was made over forty years ago. It’s a role that was tailor-made for Elliott, and he gets every bit he can out of it. Appearing in every scene, Elliott gives what is surely his finest performance of a world-weary man who is near the end of his life, a life that is full of regrets and missed opportunities. I have always been a big fan of Elliot since his brilliant breakthrough performance in the title role of Lifeguard (1976). Elliott has continually struck me as a natural actor, one who gives a slightly laid-back but nuanced performance that is a lot harder to pull off than it looks.
Elliot’s performance is bolstered by an outstanding supporting cast. Nick Offerman is incredibly funny as Lee’s drug dealer, a washed-out actor who would rather sit around the house and watch old movies while smoking pot, rather than actually getting any job. Some of the best scenes from the film are between Elliot and Offerman. There is a genuinely moving scene where Offerman reads lines with Elliott, and his character is blown away by the performance of Lee. The heart of the movie is the budding relationship between Elliot’s Lee and Prepon’s Charlotte. Prepon plays a stand-up comic that loves poetry and isn’t afraid to say what she thinks. While, yes there is a huge age gap (it’s revealed that Charlotte is at least older than Lee’s daughter), the film never hides from the subject, as it becomes not only talking points in the relationship but also a part of Charlotte’s stand-up act. There is some excellent chemistry between Prepon and Elliott, with a great give and go in their conversations. Elliott gives Lee a bit of humor in his dealings with Prepon’s character, and she gives it right back. Kristen Ritter, as Lee’s bitter daughter and Katharine Ross (Sam Elliott’s real-life wife), both give small but needed performances for us to get to know the pain that Lee has given them throughout their lives.
Co-writer/director Brett Haley, as he did with the last years touching I’ll See You in My Dreams starring Blythe Danner, gives Sam Elliott a movie in The Hero he can be proud to be headlining a film that is moving, funny and full of life. Heck, I would see that western that Lee wanted to make just to see Elliott star in another movie. My Rating: Full Price
My movie rating system from Best to Worst: 1). I Would Pay to See it Again 2). Full Price 3). Bargain Matinee 4). Cable 5). You Would Have to Pay Me to See it Again
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