insightful in-depth reviews

31, Jul 2017

The Hero is notable for its anti-heroic protagonist

by Steve Cohen
The Cultural Critic

The Hero. Film starring Sam Elliott. At the Ambler Theater.

The Hero is an unpretentious movie that sneaks up on you. Just as time has snuck up on its protagonist, a man who has been living in his past for many years.

Sam Elliott, in real life, is a 72-year-old known for character roles since he played a card shark in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. With flowing white hair and droopy mustache, plus a deep resonant voice (heard in TV Dodge Ram commercials), he is married to Katherine Ross who was the memorable Elaine in The Graduate.

Brett Haley wrote and directed this film as a vehicle for Elliott, although the story is fictional. Haley also wrote and directed the 2015 movie I’ll See You in My Dreams which starred Elliott and Blythe Danner as an aging couple.

Elliott’s character is named Lee Hayden, an actor whose only big success was a western (named The Hero) that was popular 40 years ago. Now he lives alone in a cabin in Malibu and spends his time drinking bourbon, smoking pot and watching old movies. He has virtually no friends (an early shot of his iPhone shows that he has only five contacts) and is distant from his ex-wife and their 34-year-old daughter.

The plot is leisurely, and some of the plot twists are hokey, but Elliott is infinitely appealing in a stubborn, ornery way, reminiscent of Lee Marvin. He enters into an unlikely romance with a woman half his age, played appealingly by Laura Prepon. She performs at a comedy club and, in one wrenching scene, does a standup where she ridicules her sexual relationship with an old man.

Krysten Ritter plays Lee’s daughter, and Elliott’s real-life wife plays his ex. Nick Offerman is convincing as his stoner friend.

This affecting portrait of a lonely, isolated man is so compelling that Elliott deserves consideration for an Academy Award as leading actor.

The Hero is playing at the Ambler movie theater, a refurbished old movie palace on Butler Pike in this suburb of Philadelphia. This is a non-profit community theater with a welcoming staff, and it specializes in exhibiting vintage films and HD theatrical live events.