Sam Elliot is a great actor, no question about it. I’ve often wondered what kind of career he’d have had if things had gotten started for him about thirty years earlier. As luck would have it he was just starting out as the western film genre was winding down so partially as a result the actor found himself in such undistinguished 1970s fare as Lifeguard, The Legacy and Frogs before finally finding his footing in the 80s around the time he co starred with Cher in the 1985 film, Mask. His new role in The Hero is the perfect summation of the actor’s career and a cinematic valentine to the man. He’s well overdue.

Elliot stars as Lee Hayden, an actor who’s been largely forgotten. The movie opens with an amusing sequence in which the actor attempts to do voice overs for a barbecue sauce commercial, barely repressing his anger when an off screen voice repeatedly tells him to do it over again and again. It’s quickly revealed that those commercials are about all that Lee has going for him. The acting parts have all but dried up and Lee spends most of his spare time smoking grass with a former co-star, Jeremy (Nick Offerman), from a failed TV show that once held some promise.

Lee’s life suddenly changes when he’s diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. It’s the stereotypical thing that we’ve seen in so many movies like this where the terminally ill main character, who’s made a mess of his or her life, must try to make amends. However what might feel forced or cloying in a lesser film works beautifully thanks to Elliott’s performance, which saves the film in troublesome spots.

There’s also a nice subplot involving the forgotten actor’s love affair with up and coming comic, Charlotte (Laura Prepon). She chances to meet Lee during one of his outings with Jeremy. Lee and Charlotte tentatively embark on a May-December romance that somehow feels realistic and not as forced as it could have been. There’s also another story thread involving Lee’s estrangement from his daughter (Krysten Ritter), which also works fairly well.

The Hero is directed and co-written by Brett Haley who previously gave Elliott a great part in the wonderful 2015 film, I’ll See You in My Dreams. It’s great to see a younger filmmaker seize upon a legendary actor’s great talent even if his film doesn’t always offer anything new or earth shattering in terms of its insights into its character’s lives.

The Hero may not be playing past this Thursday night, per the AMC website.

Laura Prepon & Sam Elliot in The Hero

Questions or comments? Write Adam at [email protected].