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Lee Hayden is a veteran actor of Westerns whose career's best years are behind him after his one really great film, "The Hero." Now, scraping by with voice overs for commercials, Lee learns that he has a terminal prognosis of pancreatic cancer. Unable to bring himself to tell anyone about it, especially his estranged family, Lee can only brood alone as troubling, yet inspiring, dreams haunt him. Things change when he meets Charlotte Dylan, a stand-up comedian who becomes a lover who inadvertently jump-starts his public profile. Now facing a profound emotional conflict of having a potential career comeback even as his imminent death is staring him in the face, Lee must finally come to terms with both realities when he finally confesses his situation to the one person he can. Written by
Kenneth Chisholm ([email protected])
In "The Hero" Sam Elliott as aging Western star Lee Hayden smokes joints with his buddy and supplier Jeremy, played by funny Nick Offerman, at his Malibu Beach home. Lee sizes up beautiful Goth Charlotte, played by striking Laura Prepon, who waits for her own stash from Jeremy. Charlotte gazes at Lee, "You look sad." Prior to this radio voice over actor Lee, discovers from his doctor that he has late stage pancreatic cancer, he is dying. That eloquent scene elicits the poignancy of Writer and Director Brett Haley's "The Hero". Haley and Marc Basch's screenplay is the uncompromising story of mortality.
"The Hero" is predictable, yet Elliott's authentic bold performance elevates the movie into something special. I saw "The Hero" at a special showing followed by a question and answer session with stars Sam Elliott and Nick Offerman. Sam said that the role was not at all biographical. We all deal with mortality. Sam said he is not the drug head like Lee, and Lee is basically someone who "screws up his own life." However, Director Haley hints that Lee has the possibility of recreating his life. That along with Elliott's fearless performance made me rejoice and respect the movie.
Lee really had screwed up his life. His ex-wife Valerie, played by Elliott's real life wife Katherine Ross, has moved on as a successful art dealer. But initially, he can't tell Valerie that he is dying. His estranged daughter Lucy, played by strong Krysten Ritter, remains distant, but desperately yearns for her Father's love. He has proved the tragic disappointment for her. Lee is attracted to the beguiling and charismatic Charlotte (Prepon), who is little older than Lucy. Charlotte is the aspiring stand up comic, whose mutual magnetism seems genuine. Lee created the mess of his life, and needs to clean it up.
Lee was a big movie star in the 1970's and 1980's. His signature movie was the classic Western "The Hero". His agent calls and tells him that some Western Heritage Film Society wants to honor him with a Lifetime Achievement Award. Being that he does voice-overs for barbecue sauce, he agrees to attend the gala. Possible love interest Charlotte agrees to attend with Lee. Before the awards dinner, Lee and Charlotte get high on Ecstasy. Cowboy charming Lee gives an inspiring acceptance speech about "I'm nothing without you "
The YouTube video of his speech goes viral, and Lee becomes the Internet sensation. His agent calls him about an audition for part in a big budget sci-fi movie. He runs some cheesy lines with Jeremy practicing for the audition. Jeremy is also the friend, who worked with him in the past. The lines resonate with Lee's soul, reminding of Lucy, his daughter. He says, "I'm here " Elliott is moving and powerful. "The Hero" transforms in that moment. "The Hero" is a lesson in empathy and compassion. Elliott embodies Lee's humanity, both his courage and his frailty. Yes, "The Hero" is predictable, and so very human.
Lee courageously and clumsily owns the mistakes that he made in his life, and makes amends with the women in his life. His romance with fiery Charlotte is rocky. At one point she betrays him out of her own selfishness. Prepon is the graceful enigma as Charlotte, self-absorbed yet gentle soul-ed. The movie is adamant in portraying their age gap, and imparts touching sweetness. They are sublime as Charlotte reads Lee her favorite poem. Too bad Ross isn't leveraged more here as Valerie. Elliott and Ross have an amazing scene that illuminates their unique affinity.
Haley lyrically captures the calm of the Malibu ocean. Ritter's Lucy says to her Dad, "It's beautiful here." Elliott's Lee looks at his daughter, "Yes, it is." "The Hero" is best in its stillness and humanity. Life is both courage and frailty. "The Hero" arises from this.
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