Here’s a nice piece of filmmaking, distinguished particularly by its star, Sam Elliott, for whom the script was written.
The story involves someone a bit like Elliott, an actor of the same age who lives in Malibu. But the film character, actor Lee Hayden, has regrets — a career whose high point is 40 years back in the rear-view mirror, a busted relationship with his only child and, suddenly, a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer.
Hayden keeps the latest news to himself, researching his dismal prospects on his cellphone and putting off treatment. He reaches out, sort of, to his ex-wife and daughter, but does not tell them why. He smokes dope with his only friend and, through him, meets an unusual younger woman, who calls him “a sad old pothead” but who likes him and stays by him through some difficult moments.
The movie proceeds through Hayden’s ups and downs — a recognition ceremony by old fans, a disappointment that he doses with bourbon and mushrooms, an audition for a role in a promising part in a new film, a painful confrontation with his daughter and fantasy moments when modern-day Hayden relives scenes from his single iconic movie.
All of the action allows us to see Hayden, or perhaps Sam Elliott, as he is: a tall, lanky, Western hero who wears his age as naturally as his signature mustache. Watching him listen as other people talk is more illuminating than watching another actor carry his end of a film dialog. Hayden/Elliott’s presence is that compelling.
Many, perhaps most, movies are about young people coming to understand who they are, but people face the same challenge, sometimes many times, in their adult lives. This film shows us an adult moving through that process in fits and starts, but ultimately with grace. It’s worth seeing.
For someone who has preferred to work mostly as a character actor, Sam Elliott is pretty well known. People remember his work as The Stranger in “The Big Lebowski,” as Cher’s motorcycle boyfriend in “Mask” and as Lily Tomlin’s irate ex-husband in 2015’s “Grandma” — among dozens of roles he’s played over the years.
Elliott’s gravelly voice is at least as famous as his image, instantly recognizable to anyone who has heard a commercial for Ram Trucks or Coors beer in the last umpteen years.
In addition to movie work, Elliott has played the paterfamilias in the Netflix series, “The Ranch,” which is now moving into its fourth season.