Sam Elliott gives what may just be the performance of his career in The Hero, a painful yet ultimately hopeful look into the side effects of fading stardom and the hard knocks of aging.

Elliott is Lee Hayden, a one-time Western film star in the twilight of his existence. As Lee faces a grim medical diagnosis, he begins to reconsider his legacy and tries to patch things up with his family, but as his unresolved emotions begin to pile, he grapples with whether or not he's led a life worth living.

Lee spends his days getting stoned with his former costar Jeremy (Nick Offerman, who previously starred alongside Elliott in the sitcom Parks and Recreation), providing voiceover work for commercials with his deep, booming voice or trying to reconnect with his estranged daughter (Krysten Ritter). When he starts dating a much younger woman named Charlotte (Orange is the New Black's Laura Prepon) and is offered a lifetime achievement award from some rinky-dink Western appreciation club, he sets into motion what may be a professional second wind. Still, he deals with the diagnosis alone, causing him to stumble in auditions and sabotage whatever scraps of potential happiness he may have left.

Writer/director Brett Haley (I'll See You in My Dreams) crafted The Hero specifically for Elliott, who is utterly brilliant—all at once effortlessly channeling his own real-world career and the stark sadness of a father who feels he's failed his child. Even as he's point-blank confronted with the possibility that he's only trying to right the past in the face of death, Lee wonders how that could possibly be so bad; he's not wrong so much as it may be too late.

But still he tries, even as he feels he never lived up to his own promise. This isn't easy to watch, but it does raise poignant questions, all the while cutting to the very core of universal self-doubt and our innate human need to feel we did OK with whatever limited time we may have had.


+Elliott is superb
- Wraps up a little Fast;  we didn't love Prepon

The Hero
Directed by Haley
With Elliott, Prepon, Ritter and Offerman
Center for Contemporary Arts, Violet Crown
93 min