From the July, 2017 issue
The Hero covers an extremely eventful few days in the life of an aging star of 1970s Western films. Lee Hayden (Sam Elliott) is living out his life smoking marijuana and eating Chinese takeout, doing the occasional voice-over for a barbecue sauce commercial, and hoping for one more big part. Then, in quick succession, he's diagnosed with cancer; he attracts the romantic attention of Charlotte (Laura Prepon), a much younger standup comedian; he gives a slightly drug-induced speech at an awards ceremony that goes viral; he is forced in the most dramatic way to give up on the dream of renewed stardom; and he manages to re-antagonize his estranged daughter Lucy (Krysten Ritter).
Writer and director Brett Haley (The New Year, I'll See You in My Dreams) aims high. Lee spends time recalling his biggest and best film, also called The Hero, an epic Western whose scenes of death prove not quite adequate to dealing with the real thing. Haley seems to toy with the idea that American mythmaking and American personal lives suffer a serious disconnect.
The self-centered movie star is a familiar figure, and the idea is executed here in a consistently entertaining way, leavened with a good deal of comedy. But sometimes the film has the feel of a puzzle whose pieces don't quite fit together. Salvation angel Charlotte is a dubiously realistic figure (although certainly appealing), and the speed of the action leaves loose ends untied.
Nevertheless, the images will stick with you, and that counts for a lot. Elliott turns in the kind of epic performance seldom seen in this age of irony, and Haley lets his virtuoso actor fill the screen. And Los Angeles has rarely looked so good; Haley gives the Pacific coastline and its surf an implacable feel that meshes nicely with the story.
The Hero opened this year's Cinetopia on June 1 with a crowd that nearly filled the Michigan's main theater. Composer Keegan DeWitt was on hand to discuss the score, which ranges from reggae stoner music to Edvard Grieg to DeWitt's own songs. The Hero returns to the Michigan with a run that begins June 30.
[Originally published in July, 2017.]
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