The voice of Sam Elliott is unmistakable, deep, gravely, combine that with his slow and precise gait – he was made for westerns. After working together in 2015’s I’LL SEE YOU IN MY DREAMS, director Brett Haley teamed up with writing partner Marc Basch, and wrote a piece specifically for Elliott. Loosely inspired by his long career, THE HERO, tells the story of an aging Western icon Lee Hayden, as he is diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
Haunted by his dreams no doubt inspired by his mortality, he spends his time smoking weed with Jeremy (Nick Offerman), his dealer and former co-star. While at Jeremy’s house, he meets Charlotte (Laura Prepon), a stand-up comic.
With his diagnosis hanging over him, Lee seeks to secure himself one more role to end on. Divorced, and estranged from his daughter Lucy (Krysten Ritter), Lee tumbles through his days trying to find the words to tell his loved ones what’s going on. In his denial and depression, he finds friendship in Charlotte, and the pair have a whirlwind evening out on the town, leading to one of the funniest sequences in the film. Drug fueled, Lee shows up at a western icon award ceremony to be recognized for his life’s achievements.
Sam Elliott delivers one of his best performances of all time. Brett Haley told the audience after the IFFBoston screening that the film would not have been made if Elliott did not accept the role. It is not doubt Elliott reached deep down from within in building the character of Lee Hayden. Like the quiet protagonist’s in many westerns, much is conveyed through his eyes and the silence between his words.
Filmed in Los Angeles, in Lee’s most reflective moments it almost becomes unrecognizable. The open ocean is used as a backdrop, but unlike most films in Southern California, these moments are captured with an overcast sky, and a gray – with Lee staring out into the empty abyss.
THE HERO is a slow-paced exploration of a life lived, and a look at ones mortality. With his third feature, Brett Haley really shows his ability to target an actors strengths, and lead them to turn in an amazing performance. Look for THE HERO when it hits theaters in June 1st.