The Hero is undeniably Sam Elliot's showcase, but the rest of the film tells a touching, if somewhat cliched story.
After first debuting at the Sundance Film Festival early last year, Brett Haley’s The Hero flew by under everyone’s radars for the entirety of 2017. Such is the state of a lot of independent films. Soon to be released on DVD here in the UK, The Hero tells the intimate and personal story of veteran actor Lee (Sam Elliott) who finds himself contemplating his life, his work and his place in the world after being diagnosed with cancer.
At just 93 minutes, The Hero is a short watch, owing its success to the capabilities of Elliott, and it’s a role in which the veteran actor shines. Elliott perfectly conveys the wearied and burdened Lee with quiet simplicity, the understated performance feels natural to the actor in what is a pitch perfect piece of casting. After the two discuss how you can understand a lot about someone just by looking at them, Charlotte (Laura Prepon), Lee’s much younger companion, comments that Lee looks sad, a detail we see all too clearly etched into Elliott’s performance. The rest of the cast are delightful in addition to Elliott’s gruffer character, Prepon in particular is given the most do, often alongside Elliott, and she provides Lee with a charming partner, the two have rather heartwarming chemistry and Charlotte becomes a very likeable character. Nick Offerman and Krysten Ritter (as Lee’s best friend and daughter respectively) feel hard done by in comparison, both give good performances but have much less screen time and often fall in Elliott’s shadow as the film is virtually devoted to him, regardless they sparkle withe Elliott whenever they share the frame.
Haley’s script (co-written with Marc Basch) doesn’t quite manage to plunge to the emotional depths it hopes to, but at times it shines and creates a few highly emotional and powerful scenes, most notably later on in the film when Lee reads for a role which strikes a little too close to home for him. The thematics at play could best be encapsulated by this one scene; regret, love and acceptance come together throughout the film, Lee, of course, experiencing them all and Elliott convincingly conveying each one. The character and plot development falters a little as well, a given based on how much of a character piece this is and how it aims for the slice-of-life-style narrative. Offerman, Ritter and Pepron all fill very generic roles despite the solid performances, their purposes are rather predictable and each show up just as you’d expect them to. The story is very cookie cutter, a lot of the beats it hits are expected, but The Hero is executed admirably and with a strong sense of vision from Haley. The director’s philosophical ruminations fortunately avoid becoming over bearing or draining, he knows just how to craft this study with the right balance.
Whilst it may not be the most unique film you’ll ever see, there is more than enough to appreciate in The Hero. It’s fully dedicated to its star and Elliott is more than up for the task, and, despite Elliott’s dominance, the rest of the ensemble provide solid work. Ultimately, The Hero is solidly enjoyable, fleetingly emotional and an overall heartwarming watch.
The Hero (2017), directed by Brett Haley, is released on DVD in the UK by Universal, certificate 15.