The Movie Waffler New Release Review (DVD) - THE HERO | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review (DVD) - THE HERO

the hero review
An aging former western star falls for a younger woman while dealing with the news of a cancer diagnosis.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Brett Haley

Starring: Sam Elliott, Laura Prepon, Krysten Ritter, Katharine Ross, Nick Offerman

the hero uk dvd

Films featuring washed up former movie stars struggling after being put out to seed as a result of Tinseltown's obsession with youth have tended to view their aging protagonists as narcissistic monsters, usually women portrayed as dangerously vain, striking out at an uncaring world like the evil fairy Maleficent in Sleeping Beauty. Think of the demented harpies played by Gloria Swanson and Bette Davis in Sunset Boulevard and What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? respectively, or Faye Dunaway's campy turn as Joan Crawford in the much disputed biopic Mommie Dearest.

the hero

Director Brett Haley's third feature presents us with a more benevolent exploration of the struggles of a one time star in their twilight years. Sam Elliott is the septuagenarian Lee Hayden, an actor best known for his role as the titular protagonist of a 1970s western titled 'The Hero'. When we meet him first he's recording a voiceover for a brand of bourbon sauce, that famous Elliott drawl helping him pay the rent. Witnessing Lee forced to perform take after take with no helpful direction from the disembodied voice of an uncaring producer, it's impossible not to think of those depressing clips of a late in life and alcohol sozzled Orson Welles selling frozen peas and California wine.

After getting the result he feared from a test for cancer, Lee visits old friend and former co-star Jeremy (Nick Offerman), who now supplements his acting income selling marijuana. While smoking their brains out, downing chow mein and watching old Buster Keaton movies, the men are interrupted  by one of Jeremy's customers, Charlotte (Laura Prepon), an attractive thirtysomething stand up comic. Lee and Charlotte have a brief flirty exchange, which they continue upon bumping into each other a few days later. Lee invites the younger woman to accompany him to a ceremony at which he is to receive a lifetime achievement award from a western fan club.

The pair hit it off, but Lee's paranoia about why a beautiful woman half his age is so interested in a former show pony now only fit for the dog food factory threatens to scupper the relationship. Could Lee be right in doubting Charlotte's intentions? Will she stick around if he reveals his diagnosis? And can he repair his fractured relationship with his estranged daughter (Krysten Ritter) while he still has time?

the hero

The answer to the first question is pretty self explanatory. Lee looks and sounds like Sam Elliott, one of the most handsome and charismatic men to ever grace the screen, arguably more attractive than ever in his seventies, with a head of silver hair any woman, and many men, would love to get lost in, and a voice that's never sounded more seductive. With his bushy moustache and weak chin, if you described Elliott's profile to a sketch artist the resulting drawing might resemble a parody of a French baker, but somehow it all works for Elliott. The rest of us mere mortals can but dream of looking so good at 73, and it speaks volumes that this heterosexual viewer spent more time objectifying Elliott than his stunning young female co-star.

Casting an actor who looks better than ever in this role makes much of the drama feel redundant - it would be like casting Helen Mirren in a Sunset Boulevard remake - until you remember that in reality Elliott never got the career he deserved in spite of his sex appeal. In the past couple of years he seems to be enjoying a late career revival with attention grabbing appearances in acclaimed indies like the Lily Tomlin vehicle Grandma, Haley's previous film I'll See You in My Dreams and Joe Swanberg's Digging for Fire. Watching him carry a film on his own shoulders is enough to make up for The Hero's lack of stakes (Lee's diagnosis is barely explored, and worrying about why Laura Prepon is jumping your bones is the very definition of a white wine problem) and reliance on clichés (an aging father's attempts to reconcile with their estranged offspring is a storyline that can probably be put on ice for a while at this point).

the hero

Few actors physically define the conventional masculine ideal of Elliott, which makes the moments in which his vulnerability is exposed all the more impactful. Watch Elliott's reaction to a stand-up routine in which Prepon's comic cruelly exploits her sexual experience with him for a few cheap laughs. It's as uncomfortable to watch as seeing Jimmy Stewart contemplating suicide in It's a Wonderful Life, but for male viewers, seeing such an idol of machismo slowly dying of self doubt is something to take comfort in and inspiration from. If Sam bloody Elliott can show his feelings, gosh darn it, so can the rest of us!

The Hero is on DVD January 29th.