Despite those deep pipes that have helped peddle a lot of a pickup trucks and beer, Sam Elliot has rarely been front and center. He’s the guy who started his career playing second fiddle (well, maybe ninth fiddle, when you look at his time on screen) to Newman and Redford in ‘Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid’, then went on to add flavor to flicks like ‘Mask’, ‘Roadhouse’ and ‘The Big Lebowski’. But rarely has be been a headliner. That is, until ‘The Hero’.
A character driven drama co-scripted and directed by Brett Haley (who helmed 2015’s sentimental, sweet and sadly underrated ‘I’ll See You In My Dreams’, which featured Elliot in….surprise, surprise…a supporting role), ‘The Hero’ was not only written FOR Sam Elliot, it might as well be ABOUT Sam Elliot; a veteran actor who had a big cowboy hit in the 1970’s, then sort of faded. How does he pay the bills? By providing voice-overs for commercials, like Lone Star Bar-B-Q Sauce, “….the perfect partner for yer chicken”.
Sound familiar? Dodge Rams, Coors Light….why not toss in some meat sauce? That smoky baritone will sell ‘er all.
As Lee Hayden, Elliot really doesn’t have to stretch too far to hit every note here. But just because he’s comfortable in the role doesn’t mean he puts his feet up. In fact, when ‘The Hero’ runs the risk of simply recycling the slightly tired ‘man facing mortality’ tale, it’s the lean star with the silver stache and the big voice that elevates things to a higher level.
The plot, as mentioned, doesn’t serve up a whole lot that we haven’t already seen before. Living alone in a small house in Malibu, Lee is turning 71 and has just been told that he has pancreatic cancer. Divorced and alienated from his resentful now-adult daughter (Krysten Ritter), Lee spends much of his time hanging out with pot dealer/former co-star, Jeremy (Nick Offerman). It’s while enjoying some of Jeremy’s product and watching old Buster Keaton movies that Lee meets Charlotte (Laura Prepon), a stand-up comedian who has a thing for the poetry of Edna St. Vincent Millay, and old dudes.
Accompanying Lee to a banquet in which he is to receive a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Western Appreciation and Preservation Guild (yes, the event IS as corny as it sounds), Charlotte introduces her date to a few pharmaceutical goodies that has him giving an acceptance speech so random, he’s an immediate hit on YouTube, meaning a sudden onslaught of offers and one last chance to land the role of a lifetime. Again.
Probably the best way to describe ‘The Hero’ is understated. There are no swerves here, just a tale about a cowboy looking to right some wrongs. It’s good. But the lead performance? THAT is, safe to say, a great one.