You might not know the man, but his voice you know

You might not know the man, but his voice you know

Once in awhile, a veteran actor will connect with a role that showcases them to the degree there is talk of an Oscar nomination — maybe a win. And it can revive a career, if needed. “The Hero” will not be such a role for Sam Elliott, although it seems tailor-made for him.

Elliott plays Lee Hayden, an actor who made his trade in western movies with his most memorable one over 40 years old. When this opens, he’s standing in a sound booth repeating a catchphrase for what is obviously a barbeque sauce commercial. This is one of the inside jokes of the film because Elliott lends his voice to a lot of commercial work. And why not? Its deep intonations with a whiskey finish are so inimitable.

But minutes later, Lee learns from his doctor that he has late-stage pancreatic cancer and his life can now be measured in months. From that point, the elegiac tone turns this into a meditation on a life that is somewhat unfulfilled, or one where, at some point, so many wrong turns made it seem right.

At this point, Lee, save for a little voiceover work, is about out of the movie business. He spends his days alone in his Malibu canyon house drinking bourbon and getting high. His best friend is his drug dealer, Jeremy (Nick Offerman), who genuinely seems to care about Lee. It’s at Jeremy’s place on a weed run that Lee meets another of his clients, Charlotte (Laura Prepon), a comedienne who lazily flirts with him until it eventually turns into something more serious.

At this point Lee has told no one about his illness, but hanging over his head is a poor relationship with his adult daughter, Lucy (Krysten Ritter), that even his ex-wife, Valerie (Elliott’s real wife Katherine Ross), implores him to repair.

This big set up is followed by a lot of padded scenes of Elliott wandering around the Malibu beach contemplating his life intermixed with cuddly scenes of him and Charlotte. The one stumble in the relationship comes when he goes to the comedy club where she is performing only to discover to his humiliation her entire routine involves having sex with an old man.

There is little Lee does to change the course of his diagnosis. He still gets drunk and high — a lot. And he tries and fails to mend his relationship with his daughter when he forgets their dinner date and stands her up. He seems resigned to let the disease take its course.

 

Brett Halsey directs from a screenplay he wrote with Marc Basch, which doesn’t make the best use of Elliott, but there is nothing very memorable about “The Hero,” and that’s the real shame. In the end you realize Elliott never needed to make this movie — he is the iconic western star all on his own.

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