The Hero, B
Rated R, 93 minutes
If you don't know who Sam Elliott yes, you've probably heard him at some point in your life, courtesy of Coors, Dodge Ram Trucks and the American Beef Council, among others. The veteran Western star of such films as "Tombstone" and "Mask" with the the distinctive voice is terrific as the aged, cowboy star, a role written specifically for him. His sensitive, award-worthy turn in the dramedy holds the familiar story story together, and after seeing it, you'll also want to buy some barbecue sauce.
Lee Hayden (Sam Elliott) is an aging Western icon with a golden voice, but his best performances are decades behind him. He spends his days reliving old glories and smoking too much weed with his former-co-star-turned-dealer, Jeremy (Nick Offerman), until an unexpected diagnosis brings his priorities into sharp focus. He soon strikes up an exciting, contentious relationship with stand-up comic Charlotte (Laura Prepon), and he attempts to reconnect with his estranged daughter, Lucy (Krysten Ritter), all while searching for one final role to cement his legacy.
The touching, superbly-acted and reflective "The Hero" is directed by Brett Haley ("I'll See You in My Dreams," also with Elliott) and co-written by Haley and Mark Basch, Elliott is indeed the man with the golden voice, and that voice alone lifts the film a few notches through the film's uneven moments. It's nice seeing Elliott, one of cinema's most underrated and underused actors, as the lead and giving such a touching portrayal of an old, pot-smoking cowboy about to ride off into the sunset.
"The Hero" is slow-moving, talky and filled with drug-induced (note: there is a lot of pot smoking, especially for someone as mature as Elliott), metaphorical dreams, and his romance with a much, much younger woman, even with the appealing Prepon of "That '70's Show" and "Orange is the New Black" fame, seems a tad sexist, but Elliott gives such a pitch-perfect performance you can overlook the script's flaws. There are two emotionally powerful scenes to pay attention to in the second act, particularly that final scene as Prepon reads a touching poem to Elliott.
"The Hero" is nothing new, we've seen this story before many times of people making amends late in life, but none of them had such a terrific character as Elliott, whose turn here is (and yes, this is very early to say, but I'm still gonna say it) worthy of an Oscar nomination. As a side note, watch for Elliott's real-life wife, the lovely Katharine Ross of such classics as "The Graduate" and "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid," in a small part as his ex-wife.
And yes, "The Hero" bookends with a couple of fun scenes that use Elliott's unique voice to good effect. The movie itself isn't perfect, but Elliott comes pretty darn close, and for that it's definitely worth seeing.