PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — You may not think you’re familiar with Sam Elliott, but you are.
That’s because you’ve seen this unique horseshoe-mustachioed actor act in the four-score-or-more movies he’s been in over the years on screens large and small, and/or you’ve heard his distinctively mellifluous voice not only in speaking roles down through the years, but in commercial voice-overs on television and radio for decades.
However, he’s been a character actor nearly always playing in support, in films such as Mask, Grandma, The Big Lebowski, Road House, Gettysburg, Tombstone, The Hi-Lo Country, Thank You for Smoking, and Up in the Air – just to name a few.
And now, at this late stage in his productive career, he finally gets a starring role.
The Hero is an engaging dramedy about a guy a lot like Sam Elliott who is named Lee Hayden and is played by Sam Elliott.
And although he has played a hero on the movie screen, he’s certainly not one, not by a long shot, in real life.
And although, yes, it’s the summer movie season, this is not an explosive thriller but a grounded-in-reality comedy-drama about regular human beings.
The writer-director of The Hero, Brett Haley, cast Elliott in his fine 2015 film, I’ll See You in my Dreams, playing in support of leading lady Blythe Danner.
Then Haley fashioned his Elliott-celebrating screenplay, co-written by Marc Basch, for Elliott to star in, playing what amounts to a version of Elliott, borrowing a number of elements from Elliott’s particular persona and background.
40 years ago, Hayden starred in an influential and iconic western film called The Hero.
He now lives in Malibu Canyon, where he drinks bourbon, smokes weed, and agrees to the occasional generally embarrassing voiceover gig.
But times have been tough of late, with meaty roles few and far between, and he’s received some distressing medical news.
Meanwhile, he’s estranged from his ex-wife (played by Elliott’s real-life wife, Katherine Ross) and daughter (Krysten Ritter), and finds nothing even vaguely heroic about his personal life.
He spends much of his time hanging out with his best – or is it only? – friend and drug dealer, played by Nick Offerman.
Then, while contemplating his fading mortality, he meets a young woman half his age, played by Laura Prepon (best known for TV’s That 70s Show) who is a standup comedian and a poet.
And before you can say “May-December,” they embark on a romantic relationship.
The Hero is about aging and Hollywood and romance and happiness. But ultimately it’s about spending time with a skilled and pretty-near-irresistible and authoritative actor, sporting an unlike-anyone-else-on-the-planet baritone voice, in a role that fits him like a glove and who effortlessly knocks it out of the park.
The film doesn’t concentrate on innovations or surprises but offers solid execution as its calling card.
So we’ll portray 3 stars out of 4. The hero of The Hero is anything but heroic. But he’s recognizably real and very appealing. And that’s quite enough.