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News / Life

Sam Elliott shows there’s a ‘Hero’ in us all

By Rick Bentley, Tribune News Service
Published: June 23, 2017, 6:05am
2 Photos
This image released by The Orchard shows Sam Elliott, left, and Laura Prepon in a scene from, "The Hero." (Beth Dubber/The Orchard via AP)
This image released by The Orchard shows Sam Elliott, left, and Laura Prepon in a scene from, "The Hero." (Beth Dubber/The Orchard via AP) Photo Gallery

Great actors just don’t play roles, they morph in such a way to become the character. In some cases that means taking on characteristics completely alien to the performer while other roles require the actor to look inward.

With a production like “The Hero,” all Sam Elliott had to do was look to his own life for inspiration to become the film’s central figure. He mixes elements of his long and storied career with the powerful script by director Brett Haley and co-writer Marc Basch to give the role a deep, dramatic soul. In the process, the film reaches beyond being merely a tale of an aging actor facing monumental changes to become a tale relatable to anyone who has reached the point in their life where there are being judged by achievements.

Haley’s tale follows Lee Hayden (Elliott), a veteran actor who is only proud of one film in his long career, a much-lauded Western, “The Hero,” completed 40 years ago. Haley judiciously provides small glimpses into Hayden’s life but it’s clear his has been a journeyman existence that included a failed marriage and left him with an estranged daughter, Lucy (Krysten Ritter).

Hayden’s uneventful life is shaken by a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. He struggles with when — or slowly whether — he should tell his wife and daughter the news. His confusion is magnified by his own doubts about whether or not he’s going to battle the cancer.

There is some light provided by Charlotte (Laura Prepon), a Los Angeles stand-up comedian who shows a deep interest for Hayden. His rugged exterior slowly begins to soften because of the attention he gets from the young life-loving suitor.

Everything Haley does in “The Hero” is designed to either be an examination of life or death. Giving the veteran actor such a young lover is both a way of showing how much Hayden’s trying to hold on to the years when he was virile both as an actor and lover while emphasizing what time has taken away from him.

All of this comes across because of Elliott. No actor carries such a distinct road map of life on his or her face as Elliott, and his life-etched features show the kind of journey so many make to their senior years. Elliot not only conveys complicated emotions with just a look from that expressive face but his deep voice sounds like the echoes of decades of life resonating off the walls of time.