THE HERO review by Patrick Hendrickson – Sam Elliott shines in this heavy character drama

THE HERO review by Patrick Hendrickson – Sam Elliott shines in this heavy character drama

THE HERO tells the story of washed-up actor Lee Hayden, whose career has been languishing for some time. Several events in Lee’s life start the plot rolling. A ceremony and lifetime achievement award by a fan-club of western films is offered to him, he is introduced to and starts a relationship with a young woman named Charlotte, and he receives a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. Lee is played by veteran actor Sam Elliott, who had the role written for him after starring in Haley’s previous film I’LL SEE YOU IN MY DREAMS. Lee’s most famous and personal favorite role was as a cowboy in a movie called “The Hero” and also maintains steady work giving voice-overs even now that his career has hit a brick wall. Elliott is a very likable performer already so it is fantastic to see him in a role that very much mirrors the actor himself.

The rest of the cast includes Laura Prepon as Charlotte, the woman who Lee begins seeing regularly. Nick Offerman, who plays Jeremy, an old friend and costar of Lee’s who now makes his living as a drug-dealer. Krysten Ritter plays Lee’s estranged daughter Lucy, and Sam Elliott’s wife Katharine Ross plays Lee’s ex-wife. This is a good ensemble cast, but unfortunately most of the film is focused on just Lee spending time with Charlotte. Lee’s reconciliation with his daughter is the most investing part of the story but it receives relatively little screen-time. Lee and Charlotte’s scenes are definitely more fun and active than Lee’s moments contemplating his broken relationship with Lucy and his personal struggle to cope with the fact that he is dying. However, Lee’s chemistry with Charlotte is a lacking in all but a few of the scenes they share together. This could be because of the age difference or it could also be Elliot’s droll performance as Lee. That performance is great though, and Prepon does a good job in her role as well, so I am not quite sure how this problem could be fixed. Dropping the romance subplot entirely is the only thing that could be done to avoid the issue. Placing more focus on Lee’s attempts to reconnect with his daughter and his ex-wife or his friendship with Jeremy would have also been nice.

The lack of attention makes Offerman, Ritter, and Ross each feel wasted. Charlotte seems to represent the hope for Lee to have a brighter future whereas these other characters represent the life that he can hopefully repair. It would have been great for both of these aspects to be given a comparable amount of attention. Throughout the film Lee wrestles internally with his diagnosis and does not show very many outward signs of what is going on in his head. This all starts to crumble in later scenes, with one particular moment standing out among them all. Lee’s speech at his award ceremony leads to him reading for a new role in a film during which he breaks down in tears. It is perhaps the most powerful scene of the production and Elliott’s acting really shines in it.

One of the strongest suits of THE HERO is the camerawork. There are several beautifully composed shots that the camera lingers on and allows the viewer to fully enjoy. These scenes range from Lee in full cowboy regalia walking a dusty dirt path to him standing out in front of a grey ocean and just staring out over it. There are too many striking shots like this to count and they can only really be appreciated upon viewing. THE HERO handles some heavy subject matter with grace and Sam Elliott does a magnificent job in the lead. His performance alone carries the film and makes it worth seeing, especially when the quality of the character’s writing and the camerawork is taken into account. All of this earns the film a 4/5.

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