I was blown away by the melancholy beauty that is “The Hero,” the story of an aging actor (Sam Elliott) coming to terms with his own mortality. It’s a theme that’s been done hundreds of times before, but somehow this story manages to feel fresh.
Hollywood legend Lee Hayden (Elliott) is an aging Western screen icon with decades of beloved performances under his belt. With his glory days well behind him, Lee spends his afternoons getting high with his neighbor Jeremy (Nick Offerman), accepting low rent fan awards in the ballroom at the Holiday Inn, and daydreaming about days gone by.
After a routine checkup, Lee learns that he has a very fatal form of cancer and he begins to struggle to right many of the wrongs of his past. Now filled with regret over a failed marriage and a severed relationship with his estranged daughter (Krysten Ritter), he attempts to break down the wall of solitude he’s built for himself and begin living life to the fullest — including starting a whirlwind relationship with a decades younger, spunky stand-up comic Charlotte (Laura Prepon).
The basic plot is very straightforward but never feels forced. Brett Haley and Marc Basch, the team behind 2015’s fantastic “I’ll See You In My Dreams” (ranked #13 on my list of the very best films of that year), have written a strong, fully developed, and very complex character. The dialogue is true blue in its honesty, boosted by a quiet and thoughtful performance from Elliott. There’s great acting all around, with a talented supporting cast that complements the true tender poetry of Elliott’s understated lead performance.
I give serious props to Prepon for tackling the role of Charlotte because it’s a casting choice that could’ve felt more icky than powerful. She lends a refreshing take on the May – December romance and for once, there’s a younger woman who is interested in an older man not for his money or status, but because she is truly in love.
There are weighty themes at play throughout but this film isn’t a standard issue tearjerker. It’s elegantly photographed by cinematographer Rob Givens and the direction from Haley is just as lovely. “The Hero” is a beautiful, moving film that’s one of my favorites so far this year.