The Hero is a gently melancholic and elegantly crafted story of an aged actor Lee Hayden (played by Sam Elliot) as he is coming to terms with his past and his mortality. The director Brett Haley (I’ll See You in My Dreams, 2015) manages to add a breath of fresh air to the generally overused storyline by solely focusing on Elliot’s character, who is virtually in every shot, and directing our attention to his intense nostalgia and inner struggles; as well as intertwining dream sequences to the main narrative where Lee wanders, wearing a cowboy hat, on the set of a famous western film, also called The Hero, that made him legendary. The choice to make an older actor the focus point of the film is a rather bold, even risky, choice in terms of Hollywood norms, however taking into account its success it definitely paid off.
Finding himself face to face with a cancer diagnosis, Lee’s own mortality begins to dawn on him. He makes a desperate attempt to leave behind a legacy more significant than starring in one western, but predictably fails. Through his drug-dealer-best-friend Jeremy (Nick Offerman), Lee strikes up a romantic friendship with a young comedian Charlotte (Laura Prepon) who eventually becomes the one who pushes him to speak of his cancer with his estranged daughter Lucy (Krysten Ritter) and ex wife Valerie (Katharine Ross).
The Hero, with its meditative narrative, manages to capture the unsayable elements of growing old, feeling like you haven’t accomplished enough, and the brutal irreversibility of time. For example the dream sequences, or Lee constantly returning to the sea. In one shot by the sea, the tides crash into the shore, and then they reverse back – such element can easily go unnoticed, but it’s there. It’s there to signify Lee’s desire to live, to go back in time, to correct his mistakes. Haley seems to be interested in conveying the notion of being alive, the longing for it, which is reflected in Elliot’s performance – his looks, his attitude and demeanour, gestures, his constant return to the sea. This is all non-verbal, and something only the film medium can fully communicate. If you turn a blind eye to some clichéd plot lines, you are left with a gracefully melancholic visual spectacle that’s supported by outstanding acting (indeed, every actor/actress in The Hero is very well known). It’ll make you feel the time passing by.
Dir: Brett Haley
Scr: Brett Haley, Marc Basch
Cast: Sam Elliott, Laura Prepon, Nick Offerman, Krysten Ritter, Katharine Ross
Prd: Sam Bisbee, Houston King, Erik Rommesmo
Music: Keegan DeWitt
DOP: Rob C. Givens
Runtime: 93 minutes