“The Hero”


            Lee Hayden (Sam Elliott) is a veteran actor who has seen better days.  Though once a Western star, right now his only gig is using his big, deep, bass voice for radio ads.  Bar-b-q sauce.  He's only speaking one sentence, and they keep asking him for re-takes.

            Lee Hayden then returns to his beautiful but empty home by the ocean, and smokes and drinks.  And when he runs out of weed, he goes over to Jeremy's house.  Jeremy (Nick Offerman) is a high-end drug dealer, and also appears to be Lee's only friend.  They will sit together and smoke joints and look at old Buster Keaton movies.  Jeremy is also an out-of-work actor, so he treats Lee with both the proper deference and the easy familiarity that Lee needs in order to not take himself too seriously, or get too maudlin about his bleak future.

            That gets a lot harder to do when Lee finds out that his tumor is not benign, it's cancerous.  And he has the most aggressive kind of pancreatic cancer.  At 71 years old, that will get you to thinking about mortality. 

            Lee first indulges in some old-fashioned brooding, but seems to be unable to bring himself to tell Jeremy, claiming instead that he's going to make a new movie, which is mere wishful thinking.  Checking in with his agent doesn't help, either:  there's only one nibble, an obscure Western preserve-type organization wanting to give him a Lifetime Achievement Award.  He doesn't think much about it at first.  But his feeble attempts to reach out to what little family he has left don't exactly go as planned.

            He pays an unannounced visit to his ex,Valarie (Katharine Ross), at her job.  She's less than thrilled to see him, and continues working while she dismisses him with inattention.  Things don't go much better when Lee also tries to spring a surprise visit on his estranged daughter, Lucy (Krysten Ritter).  She's barely civil to him, and talks to him through a fence, but reluctantly agrees to meet him for dinner later in the week.  But Lee is so self-absorbed that he no-shows.  And she's not one who seems eager to “forgive and forget.”

            The only bright spot is a chance encounter, at Jeremy's house, with Charlotte (Laura Prepon), who's considerably younger, and whose apparent interest in Lee is a puzzlement to him as well as to the viewer.  She looks young enough to be his daughter, but at least she'll accompany him to that award ceremony, which his daughter refused.  Charlotte is even considerate enough to bring a “pick-me-up” drug for both of them to consume beforehand.  Bizarre behavior soon follows.

            Yes, Sam Elliott is just iconic enough to compel us to be interested in this story, even though his character is hardly laudable.  But perhaps that's the point.  At the end, he's just another old guy staring at his own imminent demise, as we all know we must do, but rarely enjoy being reminded. 


Questions for Discussion:

1)                  What May-December romances have you witnessed?  How well did they work?

2)                  What has happened in your life to make you think about your own mortality?

3)                  What would you do, and not do, if you were told that you have little time left?


Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, DFW Film Critics Association