What’s it like to fall in love even as you’re falling apart? In The Hero, Sam Elliott plays Lee Hayden, an aging, mostly out-of-work actor–the cowboy roles in which he used to specialize have all but disappeared. Lee is sanguine enough about the scarcity of acting jobs. But no one wants a cancer diagnosis, and when Lee gets that particular bit of bad news, he heads out to see his pot dealer (Nick Offerman) to indulge in a little self-medication. There he meets another customer, a firecracker more than 30 years his junior, Charlotte (Laura Prepon). The two begin a playful yet often prickly love affair. If the older-dude-younger-woman matchup runs the risk of ruffling some feathers, it should be noted that Charlotte aggressively pursues Lee, and not, as you might expect, the other way around.
You could say The Hero looks like just another story about an older guy who gets one last chance to recharge his life, and you’d almost be right. But director Brett Haley, who co-wrote the script with Marc Basch, brings enough understated sympathy to Lee’s character to make the picture work–it throws off a gentle, sweet-spirited energy. Elliott was superb opposite Blythe Danner in Haley’s 2015 I’ll See You in My Dreams, and here–with his lanky, fence-post frame and a voice as rich and husky as strong coffee brewed in a speckled tin pot–he radiates laid-back sex appeal. There’s plenty of time to ride off into the sunset. Why rush?
This appears in the June 19, 2017 issue of TIME.