Monday, June 19, 2017

Sam Elliott proves heroic in Brett Haley's pretty-good aging-actor drama, THE HERO

When isn't Sam Elliott good? Just about never, so far as TrustMovies can recall. This guy reliably turns in a relaxed, believable performance -- from the old days of Lifeguard and Mask to the new ones of I'll See You in My Dreams, Netflix's Grace and Frankie and the movie now opening around the country, THE HERO. Elliott may not be particularly versatile nor able/willing (or ever given the chance) to tackle heavy-duty dramatic roles, yet he is always a pleasure to view and listen to, given that deep, dark, delicious, can't-get-enough-of-it voice. In the new film from director and co-writer (with Marc Basch), Brett Haley -- the duo also collaborated on the above "Dreams" -- Mr. Elliott gets perhaps the role of his career so far: that of an aging actor facing the end of the road, career-wise and, considering his recent diagnosis of pancreatic cancer, living-wise, as well.

Haley (pictured at right) and Elliott (shown above and below, right) make good, smart fun of that voice, too -- from the opening scene as the actor does vocal take after unnecessary vocal take for a barbecue-sauce commercial right through to the finale. And yet, this role also allows the actor to stretch in new and unusual ways. Note the wonderful scene in which he and his drug-dealer/ex-actor pal, played with all sorts of fond, funny/sad notes by Nick Offerman (shown below, left) run lines for our hero's upcoming audition. You'll suddenly see, hear and be amazed at what that voice can actually achieve.

The movie itself, though perfectly entertaining and reasonably moving, is not quite up to the level of I'll See You in My Dreams, however. It bites off more than it can properly chew within its short time frame. The Hero gives Elliott's characters not just an ex-wife (Katherine Ross) and a new girlfriend (Laura Prepon, shown below, left) to deal with, as well as his dimming career and his newly discovered death sentence, but it also saddles him with an estranged daughter (played by the always capable Krysten Ritter). This last bit of baggage is simply too much.

The daughter character manages to get simultaneously too much time in the film and yet not enough to bring the character and situation to anything approaching real, non-clichéd importance. This is too bad because, with a little less, the movie might have been much more. (Another misstep is the manner in which Prepon's character excuses herself for using Elliott as fodder for her stand-up comedy routine: The use itself is certainly believable, but its too-easy aftermath is awfully "iffy.")

Still, along the way there are plenty of small but very juicy bits that build Elliott's character into someone real and troubled and certainly worth empathizing with. The actor inhabits this role with such easy-going relish and authority that he doesn't miss a trick. Nor is he -- not for a single moment -- unbelievable.

The filmmakers' use of the internet as a smart plot device works well, too, as does the character Mr. Offerman portrays. Despite some missteps, in all The Hero offers us intelligent entertainment while giving Mr. Elliott a role and a character, the likes of which he and we may not see soon, maybe ever, again.

From The Orchard and running just 96 minutes, after opening on both coasts last week the film will hit other markets this Friday, June 23. Here in South Florida, look for it to screen in Miami/Ft. Lauderdale at Regal's South Beach 18, CMX Brickell City Centre and the Cinepolis Grove 14 (with AMC's Aventura 24 and Sunset Place adding on the following Friday, June 30); in Broward County it will play The Classic Gateway on 6/23, with with Regal's Oakwood 18 adding on June 30; in Palm Beach County on 6/23 at the Regal Shadowood, Cinemark Palace 20 and Cinepolis Jupiter 14, with AMC's CityPlace 20, Movies of Delray, Movies of Lake Worth, Regal Royal Palm, Indian River 24 and Regal Treasure Coast Mall 16 adding on June 30. Wherever you live throughout the USA, to find the theater nearest you, simply click here.

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