click to enlarge the_hero_image_1.jpg

With 'The Hero', Sam Elliott’s career-defining role has arrived 

Holding out for a Hero

From a mysterious stranger in The Big Lebowski to an airplane pilot in Up in the Air to Virgil Earp in Tombstone, Sam Elliott almost always leaves us wanting more. More has arrived. And it's just enough.

Directed by Brett Haley and starring Elliott, The Hero opened the Florida Film Festival in April and is now returning to Maitland's Enzian Theater for a regular run. Elliott plays Lee Hayden, an aging actor whose best film work is mostly forgotten. He spends his days contemplating past glory, smoking pot and begging his agent for work that doesn't involve barking barbecue sauce.

"I did one film that I'm proud of," Lee tells a friend. "That was 40 years ago."

Yet he's still remembered by a small but loyal legion of Western enthusiasts who worship that iconic cowboy role from a 1970s film appropriately titled The Hero. (The movie-within-a-movie theme is prominent, though Lee is not based on Elliott.) So when those fans honor him with a lifetime-achievement award at the same time as he receives dire health news, Lee arrives at his final crossroads.

Haley wrote the part for Elliott after working with the actor in I'll See You in My Dreams. Having not seen all of Elliott's performances over his 50-year career, I can't say definitively that this is his best. But it sure feels like it. Known mostly for supporting roles, he has, of course, played the lead previously, but perhaps not in such a resonant way and not in a film of this caliber. I would encourage the Academy to remember the 72-year-old veteran with a nomination come Oscar time.   

We've seen this premise countless times: a character confronts his own mortality while struggling to put his life into perspective. And that's likely why the movie received some lukewarm responses from festival audiences. But while the premise may be tired, everything else seems fresh. Even a May-December romance is handled well, as is the ambiguous ending. And the surprising surreal elements – such as dreamlike interludes and metaphorical insertions – counterbalance the story's predictability. There's nothing particularly revelatory here, but if you relax and let the film wash over you, you'll learn a little about life.

The supporting cast is solid. Laura Prepon (Orange Is the New Black), as the May half of the aforementioned romance, is effective. Krysten Ritter (Jessica Jones) as Lee's daughter and Katharine Ross (Elliott's real-life wife) as Lee's ex-wife are also nice additions. But Nick Offerman (Parks and Recreation) is most impressive as Jeremy, Lee's best friend, marijuana supplier and former co-star. We've heard a lot recently about the dearth of strong female and minority roles in film, but equally rare are honest, meaningful depictions of intergenerational friendships, and the one between Lee and Jeremy is the film's nicest surprise.

"Give me a chance to write another chapter," Lee asks of his daughter, but the request might as well be coming from Elliott. Request granted.

We welcome readers to submit letters regarding articles and content in Orlando Weekly. Letters should be a minimum of 150 words, refer to content that has appeared on Orlando Weekly, and must include the writer's full name, address, and phone number for verification purposes. No attachments will be considered. Writers of letters selected for publication will be notified via email. Letters may be edited and shortened for space.

Email us at

Support Local Journalism.
Join the Orlando Weekly Press Club

Local journalism is information. Information is power. And we believe everyone deserves access to accurate independent coverage of their community and state. Our readers helped us continue this coverage in 2020, and we are so grateful for the support.

Help us keep this coverage going in 2021. Whether it's a one-time acknowledgement of this article or an ongoing membership pledge, your support goes to local-based reporting from our small but mighty team.

Join the Orlando Weekly Press Club for as little as $5 a month.


Never miss a beat

Sign Up Now

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.

Read the Digital Print Issue

May 5, 2021

View more issues


© 2021 Orlando Weekly

Website powered by Foundation