The voice abides

THE HERO, drama, R, Cen­ter for Con­tem­po­rary Arts, 2.5 chiles

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The Hero rides the lean shoul­ders, the droopy mus­tache, the leath­ery hide, and above all, the deep, drawl­ing bari­tone of vet­eran ac­tor Sam El­liott with the easy, lop­ing gait of an old cow­hand on a trusty cayuse. To make sure we’re in on that hook from the be­gin­ning, writer and di­rec­tor Brett Ha­ley launches the movie with a close-up of Lee Hay­den (El­liott) in a record­ing stu­dio, purring the tag line for a bar­be­cue sauce com­mer­cial into a mi­cro­phone. “That’s great, Lee,” says a voice from the con­trol booth. “Could we try just one more?”

From there on, Ha­ley walks us through a col­lec­tion of clichés so fa­mil­iar they could have sprung from a soft­ware pro­gram — a griz­zled old ac­tor down on his luck, es­tranged from his fam­ily, a ter­mi­nal can­cer di­ag­no­sis, a last lusty fling with a younger woman, and end­less melan­choly walks along the Cal­i­for­nia coast­line as the surf rolls in. The bet is that El­liott’s charm will hold it all to­gether, and the bet pays off. The ac­tor, whose ca­reer has con­sisted mostly of mem­o­rable sec­ond-ba­nana roles (like the om­ni­scient nar­ra­tor who ut­ters the line “The Dude abides” in The Big

Lebowski) — and who more re­cently has played the old flame to stars like Lily Tom­lin (Grandma) and Blythe Dan­ner (Ha­ley’s I’ll See You in My

Dreams) — fills nearly ev­ery frame of this movie, and the role of star fits this ca­reer sup­port­ing ac­tor like an old pair of boots.

Lee’s story is a lit­tle hard to fig­ure out from the ev­i­dence here. He’s some­thing of a leg­end from his ca­reer in old West­erns, but that seems to be­long to a nos­tal­gic past. Aside from the com­mer­cial voice-overs, the only of­fer cross­ing his agent’s desk is a Life­time Achieve­ment Award from a West­ern fan club. And yet his most fa­mous movie — the epony­mous West­ern The Hero, from which we see clips — fea­tures a Lee of cur­rent vin­tage.

The can­cer di­ag­no­sis early in the movie pro­pels Lee on a jour­ney that he takes with a very good sup­port­ing cast that in­cludes his ex-wife (El­liott’s real life wife Katharine Ross), his em­bit­tered daugh­ter (Krys­ten Rit­ter), his pot­head friend (Nick Of­fer­man), and the beau­ti­ful woman half his age (Laura Pre­pon) who finds him ir­re­sistible.

A drug-fu­eled in­ci­dent at the award din­ner goes vi­ral, of­fer­ing Lee a re­boot of his ca­reer. He au­di­tions for an im­por­tant role as an old man con­fronting his es­tranged daugh­ter, and when we see him with his own daugh­ter later on, the scene plays much like the au­di­tion. The Hero is an un­abashedly self-ref­er­en­tial movie, and a nice trib­ute to a vet­eran char­ac­ter ac­tor get­ting his turn in the spot­light. — Jonathan Richards

Age can­not wither: Laura Pre­pon and Sam El­liott

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