The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


The Hero

Sam Elliott is a doggone national treasure. The actor has been so good for so long, in both lead and supporting roles, that it's easy to take him for granted. We really shouldn't do that. The indie drama The Hero makes you sit up and pay attention to its star. He's in every scene, right at the forefront. And in a long, distinguished career full of great performances, Elliott gives one of his best here.

He plays Lee Hayden, a former cowboy actor whose career has devolved to the point where he's doing commercial voiceovers. After receiving a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer, he starts to take stock of his life and career, not liking what he sees. Lee openly admits he has only one film he is proud of. He also has an estranged daughter, Lucy (Krysten Ritter), he wants to reconnect with. Into his world comes Charlotte Dylan (Laura Prepon), a much younger woman he meets through his pot dealer, Jeremy (Nick Offerman). They strike up a friendship that leads to a romance of sorts.

The Hero doesn't have a ton of plot. It simply follows Lee as he tries to reevaluate who he is as a movie star, a father, and a man. The joy of the film comes from seeing how he reacts to things in light of his changing perspective. In one particularly revealing scene, Lee shows up to accept a lifetime achievement award that he doesn't think he deserves. Elliott beautifully captures the feeling of a man who is floored to realize that his career has meant more to others than it has to him.

Other moments find Lee trying to make amends with Lucy, who isn't entirely buying his new outlook. Elliott and Ritter create a very believable fractured relationship. Lee wants to erase all his past sins. Lucy feels damaged by his actions, and subsequently approaches him with guardedness. Scenes between Lee and Charlotte, meanwhile, have a different, but just as meaningful, kind of vibe. She's young and vibrant; he's older and starting to slow down. While a relationship between them may or may not work, Lee is inspired by her energy, drawing upon it to motivate himself in ways he has not been motivated for a long time.

As a character study, The Hero is often funny, more often poignant. Director Brett Haley previously made I'll See You in My Dreams, the story of an older widow trying to start life anew. In both films, he explores the idea that early years are driven by emotion, whereas later ones are driven by logic. For the lead characters in both pictures, the impulsivity of youth has given way to unexpected wisdom. They realize that, through thought and intention, they have the ability to control their own destinies. Both the humor and the drama in The Hero spring from Lee trying to figure out how to best use that control while he still has the time.

Sam Elliott creates a fully-developed character here, ensuring that every ounce of Lee's disappointment, confusion, and regret is palpable for the viewer. The movie is only ninety-three minutes long, yet we leave feeling like we've known Lee Halsey forever. Elliott brings great nuance to the role, helping us understand the things this man feels but doesn't say, and making the struggle to right all his past wrongs seem urgent.

The Hero leaves Lee in an interesting place that comes full circle while also possibly starting a new circle for him to exist in. The story is genuine, with no manipulations or miracle solutions. And at the center of it all is the magnificent work of Sam Elliott, who steps up to the plate and whacks the ball right out of the park.

( 1/2 out of four)

The Hero is rated R for drug use, language and some sexual content. The running time is 1 hour and 33 minutes.

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