The Hero almost seems like a film set in a fictional universe based off of Elliott’s post-Lebowski career, focusing on a Western film icon in the AARP years of his life. Elliott carries that same soft-spokenness in The Hero that he did in Lebowski but its a bit more perturbed. He is no longer the mystical cowboy offering up life wisdom with every tip of his hat, but rather a lost soul in the desert, desperately seeking that same wisdom to guide him through the lonesome night. Or in other terms, he isn’t eating the bar, but this time, the bar is eating him.
In The Hero, Elliott plays Lee Hayden, an aging, legendary Western movie star who spends his time smoking joints with his former TV cast member-turned-drug dealer (Nick Offerman) and providing voiceovers to BBQ sauce ads. Elliott learns he has cancer and instead of telling his loved ones the grim news, he instead tells them that he’s working on a movie, trying to gain their admiration and respect instead of pity. When toking up with Offerman, Elliott meets Charlotte Dylan (Laura Prepon), a late 30-something/early 40-something comedian who falls into Elliott’s aura and an unconventional romance blooms between the two. At the same time, Elliott is trying to mend old wounds between himself and his daughter Lucy (Krysten Ritter).
The entire film feels like a distraction, like there is a central plot we should be following but we went down a detour 30-miles off the highway. This isn’t a bad thing and is 100 percent intentional on director Brett Hayley’s part. He wants us to feel the angst and unease Hayden is feeling, watching him waste time instead of getting the ball rolling on battling his disease. Its pretty fascinating, like watching a person who is supposed to be working on a business proposal or writing a school essay clean their house or shop for groceries for hours instead.
This type of distraction effect can only be accomplished through an actor like Elliott. In our world, we look at Elliott as the “strong, silent” type, a rugged sort of man who doesn’t waste time talking about his emotions when there’s work to be done. That isn’t to say that Elliott is actually this way in real life, but it is how we perceive him and how his fictional fans in this fictional movie do as well. It also makes his relationship with Prepon that much more impactful, as we imagine Elliott in real life would be against a relationship with that big of an age disparity. But just like when we watch him let loose with Prepon on drugs and open up emotionally to casting directors, Elliott is always full of surprises.
It’s always a strange thing to hear when a celebrity dies or has some sort of terminal illness. We think that because they’ve become so famous, so endeared and so beloved that their bodies have become immune to life-threatening diseases and will stay with us forever. The Hero tackles this false notion head on, showing that even though they will all die, they still have plenty of life let to live.