you heard the awkward outtakes from Orson Welles radio spot for frozen peas?
Lee Hayden could relate to them. He too must record multiple takes of a lame radio
commercial, but at least barbecue sauce better fits the faded cowboy movie star’s
image. His career is on life-support, but he experiences an unlikely surge of
interest at an inopportune moment in Brett Haley’s The Hero, which screens during the 2017 Sundance Film Festival.
is best known for playing the titular gunslinger in an early 1980s hit called The Hero. Since then, he has become as
western icon for his drawling voice and silver moustache. In fact, he will soon
receive the Western Icon Award to prove it. Hayden’s only friend is his drug
dealer Jeremy, a former actor with whom he worked on a short-lived television
show. While struggling to decide whether he wants to do anything about a recent
diagnosis of pancreatic cancer, Hayden happens to make the acquaintance of
Charlotte, one of Jeremy’s other customers.
is not exactly a meet-cute, but Hayden is too old for that sort of thing
anyway. Regardless, they seem to enjoy each other’s company, especially when
they both arrive at the Western Icon Awards slightly stoned. That turns into
Hayden’s best career move in years when his idiosyncratic acceptance speech
goes viral. However, issues with his resentful grown daughter and the looming
cancer might overshadow his sudden internet fame.
for beat and note for note, Haley’s screenplay might be the most predictable,
script-by-numbers narrative you will ever forgive. This is the sort of film
that is all about the performances—and they are genuinely awards-caliber. Sam
Elliott truly embodies Lee Hayden. He has the grizzled look and laconic drawl,
but he invests the character with enormous dignity, while simultaneously
exposing all his regret and self-loathing.
is still January, but there is a good chance Elliott will be in awards
contention for his turn in/as The Hero.
However, maybe the greater surprise is how terrific Laura Prepon is portraying
Charlotte. She is a smart, sultry, sarcastic presence, who truly lights up the
screen. Nick Offerman’s Jeremy is also amusing in a lowkey kind of way. You could
almost say he gets to play the film’s Sam Elliott character.
If Haley had deviated from the formula a bit
more, The Hero might have become a
Western Icon in its own right. Instead, we have what we have—and it is still
well worth seeing, thanks to the stellar work of Elliott and Prepon (plus
Offerman’s rock solid support). Despite the obvious manipulation, the emotional
payoff is hugely satisfying. Recommended for nostalgic fans of Elliott and the
western genre, The Hero screens again
today (1/23), Thursday (1/26), and Saturday (1/28) in Park City, as part of
this year’s Sundance.
Labels: Laura Prepon, Nick Offerman, Sam Elliott, Sundance '17