The Hero (2017): Downbeat and Deep Sam Elliot Rocks (Review)

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Written for Sam Elliot and directed by Brett Haley, The Hero is a loving homage to the star and his long running career as consummate character actor. This deep and downbeat drama also manages to pay tribute to all those TV westerns where Sam, along with fan favorite Tom Selleck, helped to bring the tales of Louis L’Amour to life. Elliot, in short, rocks in his performance and should, if nothing else, get an Oscar nod for this role.

This is not a fun film to watch. With the exception of the award ceremony where Elliot proves he can play “high” with the best of them, the film is a cold hard look at the profession, aging and, ultimately, death. It also, through the auspices of Laura Prepon, tells us that romance is not dead at 71.

Co-written by Haley and Marc Basch The Hero tells the story of Lee Hayden. (Can there be a better name than this for a one time western star?) Lee is 71. His glory days are far behind him and he is estranged from his daughter (Krysten Ritter). Lee learns that he is to receive an award for his star turn in an old western “The Hero.” 

Before he can attend the ceremony, Lee marches through his days as a voice over artist; flogging barbecue sauce, smoking pot and wondering about his existence. He meets Charlotte (Prepon) who has a thing for older men and Lee learns that he is in the final stages of pancreatic cancer.

The Hero is a slow, almost languid, film. It is more interested in looking at Lee’s state of mind and the internal machinations of a man who knows he is dying. (There is a sort of irony at work here. Patrick Swayze – Elliot’s co-star in Roadhouse – died from pancreatic cancer. As this was written for Elliot, it stands to reason that this may be a slight nod to the late actor.)

The film has a fine mix of comedic moments (very low key) and a number of tearful scenes. Elliot’s resurgence in the social realm, after his award speech is broadcast on YouTube, leads to an audition. It is not a surprising scene. There is a splendid buildup to the moment in a previous scene.

Lee reads his sides with onetime costar and drug dealer Jeremy (Nick Offerman).  The lines deal with a space cowboy who is trying to save his estranged daughter. Themes of desertion, death and betrayal resonate in the brief bit of dialogue and the stage is set for what transpires later. 

Katherine Ross (Elliot’s real life wife) plays his ex with conviction and the only complaint here would be with her lack of screen time. This is, however, Elliot’s story so everyone else must stay on the periphery of the tale. The Hero strides slowly towards its somewhat ambiguous ending with a pace that is evocative of a western hero striding slowly down main street; spurs jangling, to that fateful shootout.

Prepon is spot on as Hayward’s young poetry obsessed lover. Ritter proves that whether she is playing a Marvel superhero, doomed drug addict or the  estranged daughter of a self centered actor, she  nails the character completely.

The Hero is the perfect counterpoint to the redneck comedy on Netflix where Elliot has been both miscast and misplaced. The actor can do comedy brilliantly and still manages to, with nary a word spoken, show pathos almost effortlessly.

(When Sam cries we all cry, such is his depth and honesty.)

The Hero is a full five star film, despite its somewhat lacklustre ending. The film is one that needs to be seen and savoured. Haley has put his heart and soul into this cinematic love letter to Elliot and this should net some gongs at the next Oscar ceremony.

Longmire: Season 4 Episode 7 (Review)

Highway Robbery

Longmire episode 7 still has the Gabriel Langton rape burning on the back burner, but Highway Robbery takes a short detour and lets us into the mind of Walt a little. The episode begins with a dream. Longmire is sleeping and the whistling tea kettle wakes him. The bare chested lawman begins searching his new shirt and he asks the woman making tea (earl grey) and cafetière (French press) coffee where it is.

“Hey, do you know where my new shirt is? The blue one. I can’t seem to find it.”

” Well, how hard are you looking?”

” I’m looking where the shirts are.”

“Well, obviously, you’re not looking where all the shirts are.”

The scene concludes with Walt hugging the woman at the sink, who is obviously supposed to be his late wife, and he says, into her neck,  “I’m so sorry.” She replies that,  “You were supposed to do the dishes last night.”

Walt responds with, “I think I know how to make it up to you.” The woman turns and moves into his embrace saying “I doubt that’s possible.”

The woman in Longmire’s dream, who obviously starts out being Martha his late wife, changes.  When she speaks and the camera shows her face,  “Martha”  turns into Dr.  Donna Sue Monahan the “new” woman in Walt’s life. In Help Wanted he accuses the VA doctor of stealing anti depressants. Later in this episode Longmire apologizes.

Monahan may get a more “heartfelt” apology than Jacob Nighthorse did  earlier in the series, but Walt still needs to work on his “sorries.” Donna Sue thanks him for the drawn out and almost painful experience of Walt’s apology. The doctor gets what may be the best line of the episode.

Seeing that Longmire has not left she asks:

“Do you want an apology receipt or something?”

What Walt wants is dinner, or more accurately, a date with the doc, although he waits till later to ask. Sadly, when he does, Monahan turns him down.

Back to the dream. The dialogue with Martha/Donna Sue is revealing. Walt cannot find his new shirt, this could be a metaphor about his searching for a new partner (something that apparently hit his subconscious at the time he met Dr. Monahan). But… It could also have to do with learning who the “new” Hector is.

The dream could also be a premonition about the “new” murder case about to be dropped in Walt’s lap. The highway robbery of the title, which becomes the “main focus” of the episode despite the ongoing Gab rape,  as well as the transformation of Henry to Hector, is a satisfactory bit of mystery for Walt to solve amid everything else going on in Absaroka County, Wyoming.

The dream sequence is a brilliant open for this segment. It shows Walt remembering Martha while expressing more interest in the doctor. That there are several other meanings becomes more apparent when he speaks with Henry about the dream.  It also reveals that Walt is disturbed enough by the dream, and others that he has just started having, that he goes down to his office to sleep.

Walt hunts his old friend down at a local boxing gym. Henry is warming up and the coach asks Longmire to help out. As he and Henry go through he paces, Walt holds up the pads for Henry to punch,  Longmire asks for help translating his dream.

“What kind of dream was it?”

“I was looking for a shirt.”

“Were there any spirit animals in your dream? An owl? A wolf?”

“Nope.”

“One of your ancestors?”

“Nope.”

“Well, then I cannot help you. Maybe you should see a psychiatrist.”

Henry ends his psychiatrist remark with a punch to Walt’s nose. The next scene has Ferg asking what happened to Longmire’s nose. A great little comic scenario but overall one that seems to point to Walt sensing that his oldest friend is the new Hector. Longmire works on instinct and it seems that his appealing to Henry for a dream translation was a feint, a ruse, to get his friend talking.

A subplot of the show has Malachi Strand using his position at the casino to become a loan shark and he gets his henchman Darius to rob patrons who lose at the gambling den and need to get a quick loan. If they go on to win after the loan, Darius robs them of  their winnings. The victims then believe that they still owe the casino for the loan.

The survivor from the highway robbery murder, Jerry Napek (David Dean Bottrell) tells Walt that the dead victim, Peter Hoyt, took out a loan in an attempt  to link the murder to the casino.  Napek, it turns out, is a victim of Peter Hoyt’s. Earlier, the deceased had shot Jerry during a robbery. 

Hoyt was in prison and Napek professes his forgiveness for his attacker despite being crippled for life and having no real digestive system.  Walt learns that Hoyt’s family were closer to Napek than their own son. Peter’s father inquires about Jerry’s well being after learning of his son’s death. (It was nice to see Barney Miller star  Max Gail as Hoyt senior.)

*Sidenote* Travis Murphy (Derek Phillips) literally finds Napek at his feet while drunkenly urinating by the side of the road. Later when describing the incident and Napek he states that the other man is a cripple. “Is that offensive?” Travis asks. “Yep,” replies Walt. “Sorry,” Murphy says. This little scene is amusing and, like the rest of the writing for Longmire, spot on. 

During the episode, Henry buys some needle-nose pliers to aid his transformation to Hector, Cady approaches Mathias about doing legal work for the Res and the loan shark lead goes nowhere without witnesses. Monte shows back up and he has a chat with Ferg.

Walt works out that Jerry lied about what happened and the man reveals that he shot Hoyt in the face. He never forgave him at all.  This is the third instance where the dream could be intertwined with events in the show, while this could be a stretch, the message is essentially the same in each case.

The answer Walt seeks is not where he would normally look. A dream version of “it’s right under your nose.” Henry, as Hector is right under Walt’s nose, as is Doc Monahan as prospective new partner and as is Jerry Napek as the murderer of Peter Hoyt. It is Longmire’s last conversation with Travis that reveals the answer was in Murphy’s rather eclectic notes.

*Sidenote* Possibly the funniest scene in this episode is Walt’s visit to Murphy’s house for clarification of Travis’ notes.  Phillips, as Travis, bellowing, like the world’s biggest kid, is delightful.  His tortured shout of  “Ma!”  This is brilliantly funny and earns big  kudos to Phillips for selling this scene. And to Robert Taylor as “straight man.”

By the end of the episode, Walt arrests Jerry, after finding the murder weapon and Hoyt’s winnings from the casino  as Napek digs to retrieve them. Afterward, Longmire speaks with Monahan and the two reach a sort of understanding. It was there all along, just not where Walt was looking; just as the dream hinted.

This episode could have been titled “The Dream” since it does feel that Walt’s nocturnal vision foretold so much of the segment. This high quality writing, along with the acting and usually superb directing is what makes Longmire so entertaining.