'The Hero' movie review: Perfectly cast Sam Elliott shines
Iconic actor Sam Elliott's funny, bittersweet and charming performance in the comedic-drama "The Hero" (opening in additional cities June 23) earns him a spot on the 'best performances of the year' shortlist.
In short: Aging Western film actor Lee Hayden (Elliott) spends the twilight of his career smoking pot and booking commercials. But when he is diagnosed with cancer, Hayden decides to make things right with his estranged family and go out with one last great acting role. Laura Prepon, Krysten Ritter and Nick Offerman also star.
Unsure if it's the ultimate compliment or just the ultimate complisult, but it is impossible to imagine anyone but Elliott in the lead role. His knockout turn as an well-past-his-prime actor forced to look back on his life is the centerpiece of this earnest dramatic comedy. Hayden effortlessly turns on the charm on demand, exudes a quiet frustration with his stalled career and carries a melancholic wariness about the personal choices that have affected his career and relationships.
From a structure perspective, "The Hero" begins with three great introductory sequences that perfectly establish who Lee is, what he is about and the conflict he faces. The movie's opening - where the once legendary Western star endures a tedious voice-over recording session for a barbecue sauce commercial - is one of the great film opening scenes of the year.
The rest of the film is a perfectly fine, if clichéd, indie drama. A more confident version of this film would have found away to tell the essentially the same story without the unnecessary love interest (played by Prepon). Like all uninspired girlfriend types, Prepon's character does not have much dimension and is designed solely as a walking/talking plot point - an impetus to initiate change in Elliott's more dynamic character. The fundamental story of a man looking back at the totality of his legacy - as a failed husband, estranged father and almost forgotten actor - is compelling enough without adding a thin May-December romance arch.
"The Hero" shines when it gives Elliott the spotlight, allowing his empathetic and amazing portrayal to win over the audience. At times he is tasked to carry a somewhat uninspired film on his back - and Elliott does so with grizzled authenticity and undeniable charisma.
Final verdict: One of the best acting performances of 2017 make this an essential film to see this year.
"The Hero" screened during the 43rd Seattle International Film Festival and opens in additional cities nationwide June 23. This drama is rated R for drug use, language and some sexual content and has a running time of 93 minutes.