“Sad” is how the strikingly beautiful and glaringly youthful Charlotte (Laura Prepon) describes Lee (Sam Elliott) upon their very first meeting. That one straightforward but utterly loaded word may be simple, but there’s no other way to more accurately describe the aging lead character of Director Brett Haley’s ‘The Hero.’
The film chronicles a few poignant days in the life of Lee Hayden, a 71-year-old Hollywood actor who peaked in the eighties and has been quietly looking to reclaim his former glory for decades. Lee is successful — he’s worked consistently for most of his career, he lives in a beautiful home and he remains well-known.
But he is the picture of loneliness. Divorced for many years and estranged from his only child, his sole companions seem to be liquor, marijuana and a man many years his junior (Nick Offerman) — a former co-star and current pot-dealer. While offbeat, their relationship is a solid one and no doubt a life-preserver for Lee who otherwise would spend most of his days alone silently obsessing over whether he’ll ever land another good role.
And it is through him that Lee meets and falls for Charlotte — a woman young enough to be his daughter — who ultimately forces him to face the truth of his age and subsequently, the cancer diagnosis that he has kept secret from everyone else.
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Between substance and sleep-induced flashbacks to the filming of his best movie — ‘The Hero’ — and several painfully humiliating real-life experiences that occur over a couple of days, Lee must face the fact that he is indeed dying and that he must stop focusing on what was and find a way to be happy with what is before he loses everything that truly matters.
Sad is certainly the most accurate way to describe the entirety of Haley’s film. It is melancholic, it moves at a snail’s pace, but it is authentic and from start to finish feels appropriate and real. This is mostly due to Elliott’s portrayal of the character that he himself actually inspired.
As many people have, I’ve watched Sam Elliott in movies and television shows most of my life. I’ve always had an affinity for him, which I’ve attributed to the dark brows and white hair — a combination that reminds me of my own father.
But now, watching him in a rare turn as the leading man, I realize it’s more than that. He’s a dynamic actor with a gift for conveying truth and emotion. It’s easy to understand why this role was written for him. The scenes in which he appears alone — close-ups of his face, his hands — are some of the most moving. Though Offerman dancing (stretching?) on the deck is also a favorite.
The film is undoubtedly worth watching and despite focusing on a celebrity, is quite relatable for anyone facing the emotional trials of aging. The stunning photography and equally remarkable performance from Elliott though, are what truly make it 90 minutes well spent.