The Hero: Sam Elliott abides in powerful film about Hollywood and mortality

By Kim Hughes

Contemplative and performance-driven, writer/director Brett Haley’s The Hero is the kind of movie you expect to find playing in theatres around awards season, not in summer when monsters and car chases rule. But perhaps that augurs well for its eventual success on home theatre where it’s likely to gain traction through persuasive word of mouth.

The lean but exceptionally well-told film follows has-been L.A.-based actor Lee Hayden (Sam Elliott), whose star turn in a bygone Western still pays dividends albeit through product pitches rather than leading roles. Has Lee’s career stalled because he smokes so much weed… or does Lee smoke so much weed because his career has stalled?

Sam Elliott fans, rejoice

Sam Elliott fans, rejoice

Whatever the case, a cancer diagnosis puts Lee into a kind of meditative overdrive which gives his now-precious life a previously lacking momentum, a point ignited by his new and much younger girlfriend (Laura Prepon). We follow as Lee seeks a way to cement his legacy without selling his soul.

It’s powerful stuff, fuelled by a flat-out fantastic Elliott, a 70-something actor playing a 70-something actor whose own career trajectory from superstar-in-waiting to eventual product pitchman (those ubiquitous ‘Guts, Glory, Ram’ TV ads – that’s Elliott) gives The Hero an art-imitating-life heft.

The film’s vérité vibe is heightened by the presence Elliott’s real-life ex-wife Katharine Ross playing – wait for it – his character Lee’s ex-wife.

Not a lot happens in The Hero; see the before-mentioned ‘contemplative’ qualifier. Yet it is a deeply affecting warts-and-all rumination on thwarted ambitions, failed marriages and filial relationships gone sideways. It’s also, perhaps less forcefully, about the transient nature of Hollywood success. Elliott carries both narratives poignantly.

The Hero. Directed by Brett Haley. Starring Sam Elliott, Laura Prepon, Katharine Ross, Nick Offerman and Krysten Ritter. Opens June 23 in Toronto; June 30 in Ottawa, Belleville, Edmonton, Regina, Saskatoon, Vancouver, Victoria; and July 7 in Calgary.


Kim Hughes

An entertainment/lifestyle writer and editor of an exquisite vintage, Kim has written about film, music, books, food, wine, cosmetics and cars for the Toronto Star, NOW Magazine, Report on Business,, hmv, Salon, Elevate, CBC, Spafax and many other marquee properties. She lives in Toronto and is a proud volunteer with Annex Cat Rescue.