By Daniel Barnes
*Opens Friday, June 16, at the Landmark Embarcadero in San Francisco and the Rafael Film Center in San Rafael.
After I’ll See You in My Dreams and this soft-edgy, sunset-gazing ensemble piece, writer-director Brett Haley has proved adept at the sort of spiky yet sensitive explorations of old age that dominate art house theaters these days. Sam Elliott, after playing supporting parts in Dreams and the similarly themed Grandma (J.K. Simmons played the Sam Elliott part in The Meddler), stars in The Hero as Lee Hayden, a washed-up western star reduced to doing BBQ sauce commercials. A working actor…how demeaning! Lee learns that he has a virtually unconquerable form of cancer, forcing him to reevaluate his relationships in a methodical, repetitive, one-by-one process that only highlights the limitations of name-heavy indie filmmaking (i.e., you’re forced to incorporate the limited availability of in-demand supporting cast members like Nick Offerman and Krysten Ritter into the narrative). Elliott is as magnetic as ever, but very little here feels authentic, especially not a drug-addled lifetime award speech that turns Lee into a viral star.