The Hero; 1hr 33 min; Rated R
This may sound a bit hyperbolic, and Sam Elliott would likely reject the praise out of hand using some purple language that would seem completely in character, but the fact is, as an actor, Elliott is a national treasure. He possesses not only that easily recognizable, sonorous voice, but he is also the last of a type, that cowboy who rode across a red dirt plain, stacked Colorado pillars in the distance, the sun at his back, ever alone.
Elliott, after decades wearing worn western garb has merged with that mythic image that we carry with us when we think of the West. Granted that may never have been, but there it is.
This is Sam Elliott: lean as a weathered fence post long ago abandoned on the prairie, his 71 years etched in the crevasses of his leathery, tanned face, his frame all angles, his persona to a fault laconic, often sardonic, and ever conveying a sense of isolation that can overwhelm.
Elliott is that character, Lee Hayden, in “The Hero.” A man holding his regrets at bay with alcohol and weed, still able to scratch out a living making voice-over commercials for the likes of Lone Star Barbecue Sauce, his one great western film, “The Hero,” now lost somewhere in his history but not in his dreams.
This film finds a sweet spot and manages to stay there because of Elliott’s ability to never let his character slip in the realm of the maudlin, even when he gets some medical news that gives him bridled pause.
Suddenly his life is derailed, and his estrangement from his daughter, Lucy (Krysten Ritter) and ex-wife, Val (Katherine Ross, Elliott’s real wife), give his very brief contact list (kept on his phone) new urgency.
He also meets a far younger woman, Charlotte (Laura Prepon), who makes him realize that he is at the beginning of the end of his life (no matter the medical diagnosis) and that his self-centered halcyon days are gone, and he now finds himself standing alone on a beach gazing at the horizon.
Although the story is as spare as Elliott’s grin, this is never a vanity film. This is Elliott at his best, and as Lee, he refuses to turn away from who he has become. And now is. Filled with life still, a life constantly tempered by a sense of loss. Some of the moments in “The Hero” are sublime. Others are filled with an abiding melancholy. But perhaps melancholy is how you ultimately define growing old, each day slipping through your grasp like so many grains of beach sand, each night given over to restless sleep, always confronting what was and will never be again.