It’s always disheartening to see public interest wane for a once beloved star. And it can happen for any reason really–old age, bad project choices, poor management, lack of opportunity. Regardless of the reason why audience’s lose interest, it’s almost always a sad occurrence to see someone who once captivated millions be reduced to mediocrity and irrelevance. In that sense, fame is much like death–at any given moment, it can all go away. That is the mantra that Brett Haley seems to be focusing on in his newest feature, The Hero.
“Lone Star Barbecue Sauce, the perfect partner for your chicken.” That’s the age-old slogan that has seemingly become the catchphrase of Lee Hayden’s (Sam Elliott) life. It’s been years since the Western icon had any good roles. Most people still remembering the mustachioed star for his lauded Western roles years prior. Now in his seventies, Hayden is a pot-smoking, freeloading has-been, who for the last few decades has been phoning in his performances for awful TV shows, boring commercials and dumb films. It pays the rent, but it certainly doesn’t inspire the aging Western icon.
But that all changes when Hayden is rocked with the news that he has pancreatic cancer. With little prospects of survival, the gravelly-voiced actor sets his eyes on righting the wrongs of his life. From patching up an estranged relationship with daughter Lucy (Krysten Ritter) to finding new young love in stand-up comic Charlotte (Laura Prepon), Hayden is desperate to fix the legacy that he first established all those years ago on a spaghetti-western set.
Much like Haley’s previous films, The Hero is a touchingly meditative picture that combines sordid realities with heartwarming moments of humanity. Having previously worked with Sam Elliott on his witty dramedy I’ll See You in my Dreams (2015), Haley is aware of the character actors remarkable talent. It appears that Haley has finally given Elliott the role that he has so desperately deserved all these years. Shining as a man past his prime, Elliott gives an expectedly brilliant performance. Whether it is the pensive dispositions or psychological frailty, Elliott certainly doesn’t phone it in like his character Hayden might.
But it is not just Elliot’s performance that deserves praise. Haley is able to provide an astute intimacy that is seldom achieved in other films detailing the exploits of a dying icon. From the heavy reliance on shallow depth of field shots to the film’s penchant for abstractions, Haley appears to have used cinematographer Rob Givens just as much as he did the actors to flush out the emotional state of Hayden. These abstract moments of insight can come off as bloated, pedantic and even cheesy at times but it nonetheless is an interesting exercise in cinematic introspection, one that is seldom seen in other geriatric-focused films.
Verdict: 4 out of 5
While The Hero might have a few hackneyed and formulaic moments, it nonetheless is a wonderful vehicle for the masterful Sam Elliott to once again flush out his acting chops and prove his talents in a touchingly meditative drama. The Hero may not be provide any new insights on the generic tale of a former big-shot facing death–save for some rather abstract camera work–but it still works tirelessly to build a satisfying narrative that leaves one hoping Sam Elliott find more leading man work.
The Hero is slated to be released June 9 in NY/LA before a national rollout a few weeks later.