Sam Elliott’s Charms Can’t Make ‘The Hero’ More Than a Lengthy Cliché

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The Hero

The latest film from director Brett Haley is also the latest entry in the expanding subgenre best described as “Aging movie star coming to terms with their own mortality.” This time the aging star is Sam Elliott and the movie is The Hero, where the grizzled cowboy actor plays a character that somewhat resembles his real life persona. Elliott’s booming voice and on screen charisma can’t save The Hero from its hodgepodge assembly of the worst movie clichés in what amounts to a comedy without many laughs and a drama without any emotion.

Lee Hayden (Elliott) is an actor whose glory days are behind him. He struggles to find acting jobs and settles for using his twangy voice for voiceover work. When he’s not working, which is often, he’s smoking massive amounts of marijuana with his dealer and former co-star Jeremy (Nick Offerman). Two major things have just happened in Lee’s life – he’s been asked to receive a lifetime achievement award and has been diagnosed with a form of pancreatic cancer. As his dreams are haunted by the thoughts of a movie that’ll likely never be made, Lee looks to reconcile with his estranged daughter Lucy (Krysten Ritter). A chance encounter at Jeremy’s place leads to an unlikely romantic rendezvous with Charlotte (Laura Prepon), a comedian that is at least half his age. All of these events leave Lee looking at his past and pondering whatever future he may have ahead of him.

One question that kept circling through my mind while watching The Hero was: What’s the point? That’s because the screenplay Haley and co-writer Marc Basch keeps the details of Lee Hayden’s life at a distance. That’s not a significant problem at first, as Hayden keeps his dire diagnosis a secret from his friends and family. He’s unable to muster up the strength to show the vulnerability behind his masculine façade, telling everyone instead that he’s “making a movie.” It’s as The Hero progresses that lacking vision of the film begins to mount.

The film then falls into a series of my own personal movie pet peeves, a series of ridiculous clichés that undermine everything the movie has going for it. Lee Hayden gives a speech at his lifetime achievement ceremony and the video taken that night goes viral. The grizzled actor learns of this from Charlotte proclaiming, “You went viral, dude!” Suddenly, the once faded star has found new light and is given an audition for a movie based on YA novel called Galactic. (Real imaginative title.) Then we finally get to see Charlotte’s stand-up comedy set, which is a series of unfunny jokes about sleeping with a 70-year-old man. As hard as the film tries to give the relationship between Lee and Charlotte a bit of depth and even some commentary on their massive age difference, it still comes across as this icky moment culled straight out of antiquated Hollywood notions of aged leading men bedding beautiful young women. The eye-rolling aspects just mount and mount upon one another in the film’s second half and completely ruin any chances for The Hero to find its voice.

Not all bleak is in The Hero. Sam Elliott is strong in the lead role despite its underwritten nature, and there’s really some great moments early on between him and Nick Offerman. The dream sequences that haunt Lee Hayden’s psyche present the film its most stunning compositions, making the viewer wish that we were watching whatever movie is adrift in his dreams rather the rote drama before us. There’s one genuine moment between Lee and Charlotte that works, when the two take ecstasy before the actor accepts his lifetime achievement award. Elliott has a wide-grin and his eyes are barely open in the closest the film ever comes to pure comedy.

The Hero struggles to bring much depth to its lead character and Brett Haley seems to hope that simply the on screen persona of Sam Elliott will carry the film for its entire 90 minutes. Unfortunately, Elliott’s charms wear off around the halfway mark and the film just leans so heavily on a number of trite clichés and tropes without wit or purpose that rob the film of any meaning. An aging cowboy actor needs much more than to just smoke weed and stare at the ocean to have much of an impact. Unfortunately, that mostly what The Hero has to offer.

The Hero
  • Overall Score


The Hero features Sam Elliott in a strong lead performance but the movie is underserved by a half-baked script that leans on tropes and clichés without wit or depth.

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  1. ` greg September 19, 2021 Reply

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