Culver City Observer -

1MOVIE REVIEW: THE HERO

 


Sam Elliott. The minute you hear the name an indelible image appears in your mind. The now silver moustache, the loose finger-ready hair, a tall lanky physique, the languid deep slightly graveled voice, a slow deliberate cowboy swagger. Since 1969, Sam Elliott has graced the big and small screens, from episodic television one-offs to his first film role in “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid”. He has played everything from bikers to hippies to military legends to cowboys in films like “Mask”, “Lifeguard”, “We Were Soldiers”, “The Big Lebowski”, “Ghost Rider” and, of course, “Road House”. But it’s Elliott’s work in productions like “The Sacketts”,“The Quick and the Dead”, “The Yellow Rose”, “Huston: The Legend of Texas”, “Buffalo Girls”, “The Ranch”, and “Tombstone” that earned and solidified him as the man, the myth and the legend as the ideal Western hero. And now thanks to writer/director Brett Haley, Sam Elliott is finally THE HERO.Striking a camaraderie during the making of “I’ll See You In My Dreams” in which Elliott plays a romantic leading man opposite Blythe Danner, writer/director Haley vowed to write a film for him. Good to his word, Haley, along with co-writer Marc Basch, delivered on that promise with THE HERO. Loosely calling on some chapters from Elliott’s own cinematic history, we meet Lee Hayden, an over-the-hill actor at the end of his career. Remembered for one western titled “The Hero”, for some time Hayden’s sole support has been from residuals and doing voice-overs, notably for some good ol’ Lone Star Barbecue sauce. Divorced, estranged from his daughter, contemplative and alone, Lee spends most of his days drinking too much, smoking pot, and eating Chinese take-out with his neighbor/friend/former co-star Jeremy, as he mulls over what has happened to his life.When Lee gets news that he’s suffering from pancreatic cancer, he becomes more despondent and, of course, seeks escape in a stoner haze with Jeremy. Disinterested in learning about treatment options, Lee seems to have made up his mind to just live out what’s left of his life. Butthen a 30-something Charlotte walks into the scene, arriving at Jeremy’s door to buy some drugs.The attraction between Lee and Charlotte is immediate, although he quickly dismisses it.However, pushed by Jeremy, Lee invites Charlotte on a date to a flashy event where he’s being given a lifetime achievement award from the Western Appreciation and Preservation Guild. Nervous as a cat in the limo, Charlotte gives Lee a “little something to take the edge off”. That “little something” sends Lee high-as-a-kite, resulting in an insane rambling and hilarious acceptance speech captured on smartphones by everyone in attendance. Quickly going viral, by the morning Lee is an internet sensation with instant recognition and possibly career resurrection.But, he’s still facing cancer, an estranged daughter, an ex-wife, and now Charlotte with whom a

romantic entanglement is destined. As Charlotte and Lee find their footing, it becomes apparent she is a positive influence on him as she convinces him to not only see his ex-wife, but reconnectwith his daughter and tell both of his diagnosis. In one of the film’s most poignant and tissue-necessary moments, Lee does see his ex-wife Valerie, and with the camera shooting from afar, we see the pair, out of earshot as Valerie learns of Lee’s medical condition. Pulling the heartstrings here is the fact that Valerie is played by none other than Mrs. Sam Elliott - KatharineRoss. THE HERO is all about the journey. And this one is slow, languid and reflective, just like Sam Elliott. There's a quiet brooding to the film that is both poignant and wistful. There is no doubt that Brett Haley can tell a story and craft it well, and Rob Givens cinematography is always beautiful (now his third feature with Haley), but Haley still has a problem with editing and pacing. Something that has been problematic in his films since his first, “The New Year”, Haley needs to hand over the editing reins to a second eye as opposed to continually doing his own cutting. He likes to linger on beautiful imagery of nature, the ocean, the sunset, the mountains, all which is lovely, but he lingers too often and for too long, not only making the film “drag” a bit, but losing traction by not having Elliott on the screen. Having said that, the fact that he lingers on imagery while we have two potheads stoned out of their minds does work well in those scenes. There is one exceptional third act scene with Lee at the ocean where Haley uses movie magic and has the waves roll backwards just as Lee is reflecting on his life and hopefully deciding to roll back his malaise and sadness. A visual standout is also the use of dissolves as Lee goes frompresent day into his western fantasies. All are extremely well done and serve as a wonderful entre inside Lee's head space. We feel Lee's loss of time, the hope to really be "the hero" and thefrustration and confusion that this may be all that his life is reduced to - a dream. Wonderful metaphoric storytelling aided by Elliott’s facial expressiveness and Givens’ lighting and framing into Lee’s glory days in the Old West.The quiet that is Sam Elliott in real life is perfect for Lee Hayden and allows for plenty of believable uncomfortable silences between Lee and his daughter, and Lee and Charlotte. But it also allows for quiet reflection. Even when sitting on a couch alone and smoking a joint, Elliott draws you into Lee, into his eyes. You feel the wheels turning behind the quiet. The chemistry between Elliott and Laura Prepon’s Charlotte is electric, sexy. She brings a depth to Charlotte that is refreshing, and as with some of Prepon’s other performances, has a bit of sass and sarcasm that bodes well for the character, the story and the dynamic between Lee and Charlotte. Hand in hand with that is the "couple at home" montage with Lee and Charlotte in thekitchen, cooking, laughing, living. Beautifully performed, beautifully shot and beautifully edited.And of course who doesn't love seeing Katharine Ross and Sam Elliott together on screen. Your heart will skip a beat in the scene where the camera pulls wide, framing Ross and Elliott in a doorway. We hear no dialogue, but we know Lee is telling Valerie about the cancer as she bringsher hand to her mouth, she slumps a bit as she stands and Lee reaches out, touches her cheek and

them embraces her. The poignancy of that scene is all powerful given you immediately imagine this could be “Sam and Katharine” and the heartache involved. This is one of those time when a real life relationship actually elevates the character dynamic. Nick Offerman is terrific as supportive BFF Jeremy. And how perfect that Haley cast Frank Collison for the bad guy in Lee's western movie dream. Frank's most well known role was as Horace on "Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman" for the run of the show and telemovies thereafter. Nicenod to "the western" genre beyond Elliott. Character actor Christopher May has a small role as "the Director" who auditions Lee for a job, and does an admirable job. But this is Sam Elliott's film. From beginning to end. He IS "The Hero". Not only is "the Hero" a dying breed or at least a hard to find one, but to a degree, so is the western. And it's those ideals that Haley and Givens capture quite poignantly with golden sunset pics akin to the hero riding off into the sunset. Wonderful storytelling on every level. Elliott is the embodiment of a leading man. From his humble, quiet, demeanor to a man accepting of a good working career but still wanting one last ride and then the hope and light infused into him by Charlotte, there is not a false moment in his performance. One scripting note that sticks out like a sore thumb is that Haley chose to give Lee pancreatic cancer. A little too deja vu connective from real life given Elliott worked with Patrick Swayze in"Road House" and Swayze died of pancreatic cancer. Keegan DeWitt’s score and music selections are more than appropriate and serve as beautiful subtext.Sam Elliott. My hero. Your hero. THE HERO.Directed by Brett HaleyWritten by Brett Haley and Marc BaschCast: Sam Elliott, Laura Prepon, Nick Offerman, Katharine Ross, Krysten Ritte

 

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