Written by Brett Haley and Marc Basch
Directed By Brett Haley
Starring: Sam Elliott, Nick Offerman, and Laura Prepon
Brett Haley, the daring and brilliant man behind the curtain of “I’ll See You in My Dreams” is back in action with “The Hero,” starring the renowned actor Sam Elliott. The film is a character study of Lee Hayden (Elliott), a man waning in his career as he ages and is diagnosed with cancer. Lee wrestles with the legacy he will leave behind and attempts to reconcile broken relationships. It’s a self-reflective, heartfelt, and often-times humorous film showing us how we are connected as we witness Lee looking out over the horizon of life.
Haley and Offerman spoke with me at the SXSW Film Festival a few months ago. The inspiration for the film is all Sam Elliott, Haley gushed. After working with him in “I’ll See You in My Dreams” he said, “I’m inspired by him not only as an actor, but as a human being. He deserved his own movie where he was in every scene and it was about him and he got to show off what an amazing actor he really is.” He and co-writer Marc Basch came up with Elliott’s character as something “…he could sink his teeth into…and a non-Western where he’s not on a horse.”
Elliott’s character of Lee is incredibly real with the most raw and believable emotions that are true to life. “The Hero” reminds us that time zips past us as we have neglected aspects of life that are most dear. Haley identified with “Lee” even though he admits he’s still quite young. “We are always looking back on our lives and what it means to make a mark. He ends up really thinking about his personal relationships which, at the end of the day, are what really matters.”
“The Hero” allows us to see the world from Lee’s perspective—his hopes, his dreams and his failures—but most importantly it takes us inside his heart. We feel the regret and the pain it has caused, but we also see the glimmer of love and life, never wanting to be extinguished, no matter how old the candles on the cake say we are.
Meeting and falling in love with a much younger woman, Charlotte (Laura Prepon), takes Lee on a fast-paced ride that he wasn’t quite prepared for. Their relationship is simply beautiful as they both allow each other to see things differently. Relationships are at the heart of this film and none is more painful than that of Lee and his adult daughter Lucy (Krysten Ritter). As they bare their souls, the open wounds have obviously not healed, the resentment and remorse heartbreakingly shine through. However, as in life, there is also humor in “The Hero.” It’s more situational humor thanks to social media and Offerman’s character. Haley added, “He’s way more than Ron Swanson. I wanted to give him something that he could do that was way outside of that box. I didn’t have him do any woodworking or steak eating. He plays a pot dealer and a very unique one!” Offerman and Elliott, on screen, are as comfortable with one another as two brothers as they live, reminisce, and support one another.
Elliott is simply extraordinary. His small, yet vital roles in “Grandma,” and “I’ll See You In My Dreams” tipped us off as to this man’s true skills, but never have I seen such a passionate and powerful performance—certainly Oscar-worthy. Offerman confided, “The ‘business’ would say to you, ‘Why don’t you have some younger, better looking people?’ And I would say to them, ‘There’s no one better looking than Sam Elliott. People over 45 also have lives that we are interested in.” Haley’s instinct to cast him as the lead truly allows this remarkable actor to show his depth of skill. Elliott brings you directly to him, looking you in the eye, making you a part of the scene. His emotions are palpable as you are connected with him and his situation. We all have regrets in life, crossroads where we perhaps took a left turn instead of the right one and Elliott conveys this understanding with expert skill.
Offerman creates a “unique” character with skill and charm. There is no doubt that his character and Lee are long-time friends. While he adds the comedic lift to the film, Offerman shows us he has the depth and understanding to give us this meaningful performance. Prepon’s portrayal of “Charlotte” is equally as layered and complex, one that you don’t typically see for women her age. Yes, she’s beautiful, but her character is also smart, well-read, creative, and wise beyond her years. Seeing Katharine Ross, Elliott’s real-life wife, in this film as well as Ritter with her small but sublime performance as a dejected and hardened daughter gives “The Hero” the golden touch.
“The Hero” is a beautiful and sincere look at life, regrets, and the spark that flickers from within, wanting to continue to shine. Haley has done it again. He has created a film with heart about a character that is real and, get ready for this, is over 40. In fact, he’s over 70. My sincere gratitude goes to daring filmmakers like Haley who write films for older actors and then remind us of what’s truly important in life—our relationships.
To watch the interview at SXSW with Offerman and Haley check out YOUTUBE INTERVIEW