Directed by: Brett Haley
Starring: Sam Elliott, Nick Offerman, Laura Prepon, Krysten Ritter, Max Gail and Katharine Ross
Run Time: 1h 33min
Genre: Comedy, Drama
4 Frames out of 5
By: Shari K. Green
Known for his role in a movie called ‘The Hero’ that he was the star of at the very height of his career, actor Lee Hayden (Elliot), is now reduced to mostly voice-over work in commercials. Why wouldn’t he have a profuse amount with that voice! In fact, that’s where we first meet this character; in front of a microphone doing his thing. After his best take, he’s in his car and he has a conversation with his agent on the phone. It’s made clear that he hasn’t gotten any real work in a long time and his agent doesn’t have anything for him on this day either but what he does have is a bit of good news.
A group calling themselves The Western Appreciation and Preservation Guild would like to give him a lifetime achievement award. This will help with his day and maybe he can focus on it when he goes to his doctor’s appointment to hear more news. He has cancer; pancreatic cancer and the highest percent chance of living through this type of cancer is SEVEN.
Better live while you can? The diagnosis sets up a film that will be filled with self-reflection. We learn that he has an ex-wife named Val, played by Elliot’s real-life wife Katharine Ross, and a daughter named Lucy, Breaking Bad’s Krysten Ritter. Being an absent father who was more into fame and being on movie sets than being there for her, she rather hates his guts… and who could blame her?
Throughout the film, there are dream sequences where we’re going back in time with him and encountering specific moments of the making of this movie, The Hero. In particular, it’s scenes where he’s portrayed in a good light but in each scene, a few messages come through. One is, who is he to suggest HE’S the hero at all?
His friend and pot dealer, Jeremy Frost, played beautifully by Nick Offerman, has Lee over for a smoke. He doesn’t share his news but he does indulge. A walk, weed, and whiskey doesn’t do the trick to lift his spirits but Jeremy’s friend Charlotte (Prepon), just might. When she walks in to see Frost their eyes meet and it’s love at first sight. He likes the attention but at seventy-one, he doesn’t think a woman in her thirties has any reason to be interested in him. He asks her to go with him to receive his award. It’s there where things really start to hit him. He’s had time to contemplate this award and suddenly doesn’t understand why he’s even getting it. After all, who is he? He’s no better than anyone else. People love him for acting in a movie. This is a foreign concept to him… unimportant. He’s having trouble enjoying the moment and any other knowing that death looms around every corner. Death. But he has unfinished business! There was always time to get to those things but now time seems to be gone; completely gone. Lee is suddenly faced with choices he was never prepared to make. He has to make things right with everyone. He has to make things right with himself.
The scenes with Offerman and Elliot are unbelievably good, pay close attention to the time they’re running lines. Prepon could have been a little better, she seemed a little stiff but she was good for the role; very pretty. Director Brett Haley has a very good sense of how to capture the essence of a moment and without unnecessarily overwhelming the actor or the audience. Each scene of deliberate study Lee does on his life is made more beautiful by Haley’s understanding of subtlety. This film is filled with touching moments that will stay with you for awhile after the movie. It’s a very well thought out script with great talent in the roles and the story has a superb ending. Elliot plays the role to perfection as if he’s a man with something to prove to himself. Maybe he is. Who knows? Check it out tonight and see what you think.
*A very important moment in the film is when Charlotte reads this to Lee. I’d like to add it to the review:
Dirge Without Music by Edna St. Vincent Millay
I am not resigned to the shutting away of loving hearts in the hard ground.
So it is, and so it will be, for so it has been, time out of mind:
Into the darkness they go, the wise and the lovely. Crowned
With lilies and with laurel they go, but I am not resigned.
Lovers and thinkers, into the earth with you.
Be one with the dull, the indiscriminate dust.
A fragment of what you felt, of what you knew,
A formula, a phrase remains,—but the best is lost.
The answers quick and keen, the honest look, the laughter, the love,—
They are gone. They are gone to feed the roses. Elegant and curled
Is the blossom. Fragrant is the blossom. I know. But I do not approve.
More precious was the light in your eyes than all the roses in the world.
Down, down, down into the darkness of the grave
Gently they go, the beautiful, the tender, the kind;
Quietly they go, the intelligent, the witty, the brave.
I know. But I do not approve. And I am not resigned.