Subscribe
MaxSpace

Review: The Hero

Sam Elliott shines in this career-defining role.

By Max Weiss | June 22, 2017, 2:22 pm

-The Orchard
MaxSpace

Review: The Hero

Sam Elliott shines in this career-defining role.

By Max Weiss | June 22, 2017, 2:22 pm

-The Orchard

Get Baltimore Daily.

Sign up today and you'll get our latest stories delivered straight to your inbox every weekday afternoon.

Sam Elliott has the kind of screen presence people feel compelled to liken to a well-worn piece of clothing: He’s a perfectly faded pair of jeans, a broken in leather jacket, a confidently cocked cowboy hat. As for his voice, well, liquid analogies are usually best: Smooth bourbon, a hint of molasses, a touch of aged scotch. Elliott has been the quintessential laconic cowboy in movies since the '60s, but he’s branched out lately, in films like I’ll See You In My Dreams and Grandma, where he plays an elderly lover, a symbol of the time (real or imagined) when men were men and knew how to treat a lady. It makes sense. At 72, he still looks great: Sinewy and lean, with that famous bushy mustache and, now, a glorious mane of white hair.

The Hero director Brett Haley, who also directed I’ll See You In My Dreams, is obviously a fan of Elliott’s and this film is a valentine to him, an actor’s showcase, Elliott’s answer to Crazy Heart and Tender Mercies (although not as good as either of those films).  


⇓ Article continues below ⇓

He plays a less successful version of himself, Lee Hayden (great name), a washed up actor who was a major star of westerns in the '70s. Now Lee does voiceovers for barbecue sauce and gets high with his friend and drug dealer Jeremy (Nick Frost). One day, while over at Jeremy’s house, he meets the alluring Charlotte (Laura Prepon), a stand-up comedian. They flirt, although Lee is just being wistful, he knows she’s too young for him. Then they bump into each other again, at a taco stand, flirt some more, and this time she encourages him to ask her out. Turns out, she digs older guys.

It’s fun to watch Prepon and Elliott dance around each other—they’re both excellent screen flirts—but I never fully bought the relationship, and the film doesn’t bother to explain why this young woman would be interested in a man old enough to be her father. She’s not given much interior life—she’s just one of many Big Things happening in Lee’s world.

Lee takes Charlotte to a banquet where he’s given a Lifetime Achievement Award by some sort of western appreciation guild. In the limo beforehand, he agrees to let Charlotte spike his drink and by the time he gets on stage to accept the award, he’s loopy, cheerfully telling the crowd that they all deserve lifetime achievement awards and inviting one stunned woman to join him on stage, as the crowd chants her name. The moment goes viral, sparking a renewed interest in Lee’s career.

But there’s one snag: Lee has recently been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and he can’t bring himself to tell anyone: Not his ex-wife (Katharine Ross, Elliott’s real-life wife), not his estranged adult daughter (Krysten Ritter), not even Charlotte.

In the film’s best scene, he auditions for the role of a heroic father figure in a space cowboy film. Earlier, while practicing on Jeremy’s deck, he absolutely nailed the part. But now, reflecting on how he let down his own daughter—he was a distant and mostly absentee father—and knowing that he’s probably too sick to be cast, he breaks down, flubbing the audition with a surfeit of emotion, before apologizing and rushing out.

The Hero is a minor film. It ticks off too many obvious milestones—Lee’s diagnosis, his viral moment, his unlikely romance, his attempts to reconcile with his family—but it goes down (dare I say) smoothly. Haley gave Elliott the gift of this career-defining role and Elliott returns the favor by giving a career-best performance.    




Meet The Author
Max Weiss is the managing editor of Baltimore and a film and pop culture critic.

You May Also Like


Arts & Culture

Photographer Steve Parke Talks About Chronicling Prince

The Baltimore artist captures The Purple One in new book.

MaxSpace

Review: Lady Bird

Delightful coming of age story about a (mildly) rebellious Catholic schoolgirl

Arts District

Watch an Intimate Interview and Performance by Davon Fleming of The Voice

The West Baltimore native talks church, Jennifer Hudson, and chicken boxes.


Arts District

Michael Reilly Perfects the Art of Puppetry for Lion King Production

Behind the strings of the hit broadway musical coming to The Hippodrome.

Arts District

Culture Club: Baltimore Museum of Art, Ru-Jac Records, and Joy Postell

Our monthly roundup of openings, events, and news from the art world.

Arts District

Everyman Theatre is the Perfect Place to Reintroduce Intimate Apparel

With earnest acting and subtle poignancy, the play is a masterful work.

Connect With Us

Most Read


Baltimore Joins the SAFE Cities Network to Provide Legal Assistance for Immigrants: The city will offer pro bono legal counsel, education, and family safety planning for its residents.

Watch an Intimate Interview and Performance by Davon Fleming of The Voice: The West Baltimore native talks church, Jennifer Hudson, and chicken boxes.

Chef Andrew Carmellini Talks Fried Chicken and Rye Street Tavern: The James Beard Award-winning chef discusses his time in Baltimore.

Italian Travels Inspired Molina Owners to Open R. House Pizza Stall: Local entrepreneurs debut New Haven-style pizza joint inside Remington food hall.

Baltimore Beat Staff Says It Will Not Be City Paper 2.0: The city’s alt-weekly paper set to launch on November 15.