Sundance 2017: 'The Hero' Is About Facing Mortality Like A Badass Cowboy
Director: Brett Haley
The Hero features great lead and supporting performances with a story that feels instantly relatable on a very human level.
There is nothing that Hollywood likes to do more than talk about itself and the various people who work in it. Those types of movies usually do well, but The Hero takes it a level further as it examines not only an aging movie star, but also the fact that he has outlived the genre that brought him to prominence. Not only is The Hero about the mortality of the movie star but also the slow decline of the entire Western genre. The story is what you would expect from a movie like this: there is an actor, Lee (Sam Elliot) past his prime and he spends most of his time doing commercial work and smoking weed with a former co-star (Nick Offerman). Then, he gets a terminal diagnosis for cancer and he decides that he needs to mend his relationships with his daughter and his ex-wife. Along the way he meets a much younger comedian, Charlotte (Laura Prepon) who shows him what he's been missing when it comes to his love life.
All of this sounds like it would be very boring because it's all stuff that we've heard before. However, all of this is bearable because of the performances by the main cast and Sam Elliot in particular. He's perfectly cast as a Western icon past his prime, and were it not for the fact that we know he is terminally ill we would think this was his life story. It makes for a movie that feels very real and relatable even for all of us who are neither old nor a movie star. The rest of the cast is also great, with Offerman putting in a hilarious turn as a former actor turned drug dealer who hangs out with a former cast member much older than him. Laura Prepon is also fantastic as Charlotte, even if you spend half of the movie wondering exactly what her motives are.
All of the pieces that make a movie work seem to be present here, but it never really feels like it comes together in a way that matters. It feels long, which indicates pacing problems, and that's never promising. The story is so familiar that we end up guessing exactly what is going to happen long before it does. A movie cannot survive on performances alone, and while everyone is fantastic, everything feels too familiar. There are constant shots of the ocean, as if the movie is trying to remind us that it is supposed to be about something instead of letting the audience get the message on its own. It almost feels as if the filmmakers worried that their movie was too deep for everyone to understand, so they needed to spell it out — when in reality it's all quite simple.
The Hero is fine, but with that much talent and performances this good, it just makes everything else stand out. The pacing problem becomes more apparent, and the story falls flat with so many people putting so much into it.