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THE HERO: It won’t feel bad at all when the hero takes a fall.

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Sam Elliott stars in "The Hero".
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For over the past few decades, with his weathered handsomeness and plain-spoken drawl, Sam Elliott has embodied the modern-day idea of the lone cowboy riding the range thanks to iconic roles in films like Tombstone, The Quick and the Dead, and, of course, The Big Lebowski.

And let’s not forget “Beef…it’s what’s for dinner.”

It’s while working on a similar catchphrase for BBQ sauce where we meet actor Lee Hayden (Elliott), a Western star who has since faded into mild obscurity, his one big hit film decades behind him. Like a horse being put out to pasture, the aging actor spends most of his days in a marijuana haze, reliving former glories and watching Buster Keaton flicks with his drug-dealer neighbor (Nick Offerman).

Mortality, of course, hits when a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer causes him to reflect on his accomplishments, or lack thereof, including reconciling with a bitter ex-wife (Katherine Ross) and an estranged daughter (Krysten Ritter). Things take an unexpected turn however when he delivers a speech at a lifetime awards banquet that goes viral, placing a new sense of relevancy in his future, one that seems diminished by the disease and his will to fight it.

Ever since Tommy Lee Jones in No Country for Old Men, it seems every famously grizzled actor gets their “man’s man” final stance—a dutifully cinematic Viking funeral of sorts. Jeff Bridges got Crazy Heart, Robert Duvall has A Night in Old Mexico, and so on. The Hero, written and directed by Brett Haley, gives Elliott his turn to face the reaper, albeit with more of welcomed Southern California mellowness than those previously mentioned.

Like an old dog afraid—or unwilling—to break out of his routine, Elliott gives a genuinely moving performance, very understated and, per usual, soft-spoken, never saying too much, needing only a certain look or a gentle smirk to say all that needs to be said. Here’s to hoping the film—and his performance—is remembered come awards season, because he’s definitely a front-runner on my list.

And while yes, there are more than a few moments of melodramatic, by-the-numbers script contrivances—the estranged daughter bit is getting especially worn—the honesty Elliott and company, especially Laura Prepon as his unreasonably young love interest, give the film a sharp gravitas that would fall apart in anyone else’s hands. The casting was particularly impeccable here.

With Elliott in command, it doesn’t hurt at all when this Hero takes a fall; it’s a storyline about the imagined idea of the importance of legacy that, sure, we might have seen before, but never through these dogged eyes. The Hero ultimately moves because it isn’t about winning the battle so much as it is at least making it to the end of the war alive to say goodbye and good luck. Sometimes, that’s just a victory in itself.

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Louis Fowler

Güicho. Gadfly. Chicano. Choctaw. Cristero. Freelancer. Leftist. Activist. Vilified. PKD....

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About Red Dirt Report

Red Dirt Report was launched July 4, 2007 as an independent news website covering all manner of news, culture, entertainment and lifestyle stories that affect and interest Oklahoma readers and readers outside of our state. Our mission is to educate, promote civic engagement and discourse on public policy, government and politics. Our experienced journalists provided balanced in-depth coverage of news stories that affect Oklahomans. Our opinion/editorial stories come from a wide range of political view points. We carry out our mission by reporting, writing, and posting news and information. read more

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