The Hero (R) ★★½

Sam Elliott, Laura Prepon, Krysten Ritter, Nick Offerman, and Katherine Ross star in “The Hero.” Photo Credit: The Orchard.

The Hero Cannot Save the Day  

The pursuit of professional success often comes with a cost. This is a lesson that many people only realize when they look back on their lives and realize too much time was spent pursuing “success” to the detriment of the most important relationships in their life. This experience can ring especially true in show business where fame is fleeting and public and personal lives often overlap. Brett Haley’s latest drama, The Hero, is much like The Wrestler and Crazy Heart, focusing on one man’s examination of his life and career after the fame diminishes along with his desire to leave behind a legacy. 

The story opens with Lee Hayden, an aging actor with a golden voice, (played by Sam Elliott, Grandma, 2015) in a recording studio, repeating the same line for a producer. Although Lee made a living by playing cowboys in Western firms, he is now reduced to performing voiceovers for a steak sauce commercial. Afterwards, Lee calls his agent to see if there are any meaningful roles for him. There are no open roles, but his agent does inform him that he has won a lifetime achievement award for his work in Western films, a ceremony Lee declines to attend. Lee later stops by the doctor’s office, where his doctor relays the upsetting news about a recent biopsy stating that he has prostate cancer. The action then cuts to a scene from Lee’s most famous movie, The Hero, which is the basis for this title. Throughout this film, there are cuts to scenes from his original film, but they don’t advance the story or provide context. More than anything, the cuts serve as a break in the action.

Lee, who is trying to figure out how to cope with his bad news, heads over to his friend Jeremy’s house (Nick Offerman, The Founder, 2017), a former co-star who also sells pot to Lee on the side. As they reminisce about the glory days, their conversation is interrupted when a young woman named Charlotte (Laura Prepon, The Girl on the Train, 2016) stops by to pick up some pot as well. While Jeremy fetches her “goods,” Charlotte catches Lee staring at her. Despite their 30+ year age difference, Lee is able to charm Charlotte, an aspiring comedian, and they playfully banter as she recognizes him from his acting roles. 

Lee’s next stop is to visit his ex-wife Valarie (played by his real-life wife, Katherine Ross, Donnie Darko, 2001). Although they are cordial, it’s clear that Lee wasn’t a great family man and Valerie and their daughter have moved on with their lives. As he prepares to leave, he cannot bring himself to relay the news about his health and instead says he is making a new movie. Lee then calls his agent to tell him he will attend the award ceremony before surprising his estranged daughter Lucy (Krysten Ritter, Big Eyes, 2014) at tennis lessons. Lee wants her to attend the awards ceremony with him, but Lucy, who has a frosty relationship with her father, tells him she has a prior commitment but can meet him for dinner another time. Later that day, Lee randomly runs into the comedian Charlotte again where they resume their flirting, and he invites her to go to the awards ceremony with him. Lee and Charlotte’s appearance at the awards ceremony does not go as he anticipated after Charlotte encouraged him to try some drugs in the limo ride over. The next morning, much to his surprise, he finds out he is ‘trending’ on social media given his uncharacteristic outgoing behavior at the ceremony. Now in demand once again, Lee is excited at a chance at another big role but still struggles with his desires to mend his failed personal life as he reflects on his mortality.

This drama, at its core, is a story about one man’s struggles to deal with his professional legacy and while trying to find personal redemption. These themes are certainly worth examining, but this is a plot audiences have seen very similarly. As noted above, Mickey Rourke in his Oscar-nominated role in The Wrestler (2008) and Jeff Bridges in his Oscar-winning role in Crazy Heart (2009) dealt with similar themes. For those who have seen either one of those films, the thematic overlap seriously diminishes the impact of this story, which is unfortunate as this film certainly has potential. For instance, Sam Elliot, a veteran character actor, is truly a perfect fit for this role as an aging Western star. It shows an acting range most fans of his may not know he was capable of delivering. Laura Prepon, as his younger love interest, is also strong in a familiar role as the sarcastic love interest. Although the script fails to lay down a credible groundwork for their romance, as their relationship builds these two actors do work well off one another. Nick Offerman, as Lee’s friend, continues to deliver in the supporting roles and also provides needed comedic relief.

Most of all, it was touching to see Elliot and his real life wife of so many years, Katherine Ross, share the stage again. Unfortunately, for the actors, the tiresome plot just doesn’t break enough ground to make this a unique movie experience worth recommending.    

Bottom Line: The Hero showcases superb acting from veteran Sam Elliot, but this drama is unfortunately neutralized by the repetitive storyline.

Credits: Directed and written by Brett Haley

Cast: Sam Elliott (Lee Hayden), Laura Prepon (Charlotte), Krysten Ritter (Lucy), Nick Offerman (Jeremy), and Katherine Ross (Valarie)

Studio: The Orchard

Running Time: 93 minutes

Jessica DeLong © June 10, 2017