The Hero is an interesting film that, initially sets itself up to be Sam Elliott's Crazy Heart.
Elliott plays an actor, at the end of a career that he is less than impressed with, struggling with a life threatening illness, trying to re-connect with his estranged daughter (Krysten Ritter), possibly falling in love with a much younger woman (Laura Prepon) and smoking pot with his blazed out, actor friend (Nick Offerman).
Plagued with dreams about a possible western he wants to make, one night, when receiving a lifetime achievement award while high, his acceptance speech goes viral and the possibility of a career resurgence beckons.
On the surface and with that plot run down, The Hero does, sadly, seem clichéd as hell. Unfortunately the way this indie drama is filmed doesn't help either because it looks just like every other indie drama where a leading character wrestles with questions of success, mortality and the mistakes of the past.
To further compound this issue, I personally, find the character's casual drug use and the film's flippant presentation of drug use, I don't know, it must be my hang up, but just feels like an attempt to be annoyingly hip.
Maybe I'm wrong but Offerman and Elliott getting high, eating Chinese food and watching Buster Keaton movies just sounds like a hipster's wish fulfillment rather than something I should ever have to tolerate watching on film.
Please understand that I love Sam Elliott and for all the film's faults, he is excellent in this. However he is excellent in damn near everything he's in.
The film has a running gag about Elliott doing voice overs for BBQ sauce and getting irritated when asked, by the voice over director, to do one more take each time. As if there was anything wrong with the way his sultry bass purr had already said the one line already. You're paying for Sam Elliott and you're getting Sam Elliott who needs one more take?
Well I like Sam Elliott so much that I'd watch that recording session for 90 minutes and be satisfied.
So if you just want more Sam Elliott and you want to watch him being charming, damaged, strong, pathetic, loving and cold all in one movie, then you'll get enough out of The Hero that my nitpicking on the rest of the movie won't bother you.
So, the downside to The Hero is that nothing really happens and you're going to be watching it wishing something would happen.
The message of the movie, as brought home by a poem Laura Prepon reads Elliott towards the end of the film, is, broadly, "don't give up" - Don't resign yourself to the grave, keep kicking until you're no longer kicking.
This is great and certainly adds a poignancy, relief and resolve to the closing act of the movie, however it means that most things leading up to that is just him either failing, sabotaging himself or being unable to cope with the chances or issues that come along, for multiple reasons. it's not so much a character arc as it is a flat-line with a faint blip at the end as the patient is resuscitated.
I completely understand that budgetary and time constraints might have played into the fact that they couldn't have the character succeed or fail so spectacularly that it might be interesting to watch but still did it have to be so frustrating and meandering?
The Hero does have a great cast and, as I stated earlier, plenty of areas for Elliott to shine, it's just films where Sam Elliott is the lead, or even the second lead are, sadly, very scarce and so I guess I was just hoping to get more out of this.
Crazy Heart had the music and the open road to add life and buoyancy to the proceedings, in this, the one big set piece, the lifetime achievement awards dinner/speech, just when you're expecting an eloquent, powerful or beautiful speech that makes you think and cheer, instead the film squanders that opportunity and leaves you feeling like "well what was the point in that?"
It breaks my heart to relentlessly moan about The Hero because I do, actually, want people to watch it. I want it to be a success.
There are some scenes in it that sparkle and fizz with the effortless performances of charming, seasoned, professional actors, it is well shot with many beautiful sequences that have a keen sense of light and mood and, of course, it has an abundance of moustache work by the hardest performing upper lip hair in the business.
So please go see The Hero if you, like me, love Sam Elliott but be ready for a smaller, quieter and less eventful film than you might be expecting.
The Hero is released in selected cinemas in Los Angeles and New York on June 9th and nationwide after that.
look for my interview with Director Brett Haley, coming soon.