Sam Elliott is a beloved performer in Hollywood circles and the globe over. The man, who has made his mark in notable roles over his decades-long career, is often thought of as a gruff, made for the Western genre character actor. We’ve seen him in those parts, but of course in so much more. Who could forget his short but scene stealing moments in The Big Lebowski or his powerful presence in the recently released I’ll See You In My Dreams?
With the arrival of The Hero, the actor finally has a role that makes him a bonafide leading man, and dare we say… one to seriously consider for that career-affirming moment called an Oscar nomination for Best Actor.
The Hero follows an older actor who is trying to still secure work, years after he made a household name for himself. Decades prior, he made a film that shares the title with Elliott’s latest work and it has defined him in every possible way ever since. Now we find him a pot-smoking, in-demand voice actor (also something Elliott has been proficient at) who is estranged from his daughter Lucy (Krysten Ritter) and not exactly close to his ex-wife Valarie (Katherine Ross).
Throwing a wild wrench into his life, at his drug dealer/best friend Jeremy’s (Nick Offerman) house, he meets young Charlotte (Laura Prepon) and sparks fly. It is a relationship that should not work, but in The Hero it is painted in such a charming and endearing way, that we pull for these two to make it.
Then, he gets some news and it involves an aggressive form of Cancer. It halts him in his tracks and it gives the veteran actor his most prized opportunity to showcase his vast emotional well and deliver it on a stage that is custom made to show off these untapped gifts.
Yes, we said it. Elliott has a part of his actor’s tool box that he has never had to call upon and in The Hero he culls from places that are simply heartbreaking, heartwarming and yes even hilarious. Co-writer/director Brett Haley has also framed his star in such a manner that finds the camera loving him in ways it never has before. Cinematographer Rob Givens has painted his star on a palette that is plush in color, texture and tone. It all adds to the emotional pull of this engaging film that we also adore because it doesn’t answer all of the questions it raises.
Film does not always have to wrap up its stories in a neat and tidy bow. One could argue that the medium more mirrors life itself when it doesn’t do that. The Hero takes us on a journey that is thoroughly enjoyable, emotional and tugs at the heartstrings in a manner that are humane and human. It deals with some serious issues, but with a breath of fresh air blown throughout that it never feels heavy or emotionally burdensome.
The reason for that largely has to sit on three sets of shoulders — Elliott’s and co-writers Marc Basch and Haley’s.
The former not only goes deep emotionally into this complex character, but does so at the same time never letting go the cinematic persona that audiences have come to expect from the legend. This is still firmly a “Sam Elliott” character. It is just that he is allowed, with Haley’s script, to dive into waters that have previously eluded him in his esteemed and successful career. Haley also knows his star and how to frame him cinematically and emotively in such a manner that will further endear Elliott’s fans to his work, but also cast a wider web of appreciation for what this legend can bring to the acting table.