Brett Haley, dir. & co-script w/Marc Basch
Starring: Sam Elliott (Lee Hayden), Laura Prepon (Charlotte), Krysten Ritter (Lucy),
Nick Offerman (Jeremy), Katharine Ross (Val)
Sam Elliott has spent the last 40 years in Hollywood peddling his thick glorious moustache, deep resonant voice and down-home Western accent. For most of us, he will always be remembered for his role as The Stranger, who narrates the story of the “Dude” in the Coen Brothers’ cult classic The Big Lebowski. Finally, at the age of 72, he is getting his due, in Brett Halsey’s The Hero.
In his last film, I’ll See You in my Dreams, Halsey cast Elliott as a dream catch for the suddenly single Blythe Danner. Their brief relationship is a high point of a Zoomer classic. This time around, Halsey and his writing partner Marc Basch, have devised a vehicle for Elliott, who finally has a leading role in an independent film.
Elliott plays Lee Hayden, a fading character actor, who is still making a living as the voice on popular beer and food commercials. (And, yes, Elliott, does do that in real life). Divorced and estranged from his daughter, Lee Hayden’s life has been reduced to smoking weed with a former actor Jeremy (Nick Offerman, restrained but still funny) and chasing parts in films and TV series that don’t want to hire an old cowboy. Then, he meets Charlotte (the ever-cool and phlegmatic Laura Prepon), a stand-up comic who likes older guys, right around the same time that he discovers his cancer has turned lethal.
As a critic, I would love to praise The Hero. Who doesn’t like Sam Elliott? But even though this film was devised for him, the film never feels real. There’s a long sequence where Elliott’s Lee asks Prepon’s Charlotte why she’s sleeping with him. He’s too old and why would she want to help him deal with his problems? Prepon’s answers are sketchy at best. She likes older guys, she enjoys him and she’ll leave if he wants. In other words, Halsey and Basch are trying to defend the obvious choice of having a beautiful younger woman help the “hero” out in his time of crisis. They don’t seem convinced; nor will an audience, I suspect.
Similarly, he tries to apologize to his daughter for his poor efforts as a father, but Halsey hasn’t really given much motivation to the characters. Did Elliott’s Lee sleep around? Was there another woman? We never find out.
In I’ll See You in my Dreams, Brett Halsey set up a real situation. What do women in their seventies do when their partners pass away? In The Hero, we’re in a Hollywood fantasy, not reality. Sam Elliott is fine in the film and if you’d like to see him in a large role, this is your chance. Though I’d love to endorse The Hero, it simply doesn’t engage the heart. And when you don’t do that in a film predicated on emotional buy-in, brother, you’ve got nothing.
Written by Marc Glassman
Adjunct Professor, Ryerson University
Director, Pages UnBound: the festival and series
Editor, POV Magazine
Editor, Montage Magazine
Film Critic, The New Classical FM
Film programmer, Planet in Focus
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