1992, PG-13, 112 min. Directed by Stephen Frears. Starring Dustin Hoffman, Geena Davis, Andy Garcia, Joan Cusack, Tom Arnold.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Oct. 2, 1992
It's getting to look like Stephen Frears may be the most cynical filmmaker of our time. A sampling of his track record up to now -- My Beautiful Laundrette, Sammy and Rosie Get Laid, Dangerous Liaisons, The Grifters -- plays like an unrelenting peek into the dark, petty aspects of the human condition. Frears makes good use of his mordant sense of humor to offset some of the more disturbing notions in his films, but at the heart of it, he seems to revel in illuminating just how rotten people as a whole can be. Now, coupled with screenwriter David Webb Peoples (whose scripts for Unforgiven and Blade Runner are equally cynical), Frears has come up with Hero, a “contemporary comedy” that's less a comedy than it is a scathing indictment of the depths to which the media frequently sinks in its unending quest for “truth” and ratings. Bernie LaPlante (Hoffman) is a small-time crook whose twin credos, “look out for number one” and “keep a low profile” seem to get him into more trouble than they're worth. On his way to his ex-wife's house one night, Bernie witnesses the crash of a 747 on a lonely stretch of road and, against his better judgment, risks his life to save the 54 people trapped aboard. When he disappears without a trace after his uncharacteristically courageous act, a call goes up to locate this mysterious “angel of flight 104,” and a million dollar reward is offered to find him. Enter John Bubber (Garcia), an indigent Vietnam vet who matches the description and steps in to grab the hero's fame and fortune. Gale Gayley (Davis), a television reporter who was on board the plane when it crashed, pumps up Bubber as a “hero for the people, a symbol of all that's good in man,” although Bubber himself, stricken by his conscience, is beginning to have second thoughts about all the hoopla surrounding him. Meanwhile, poor schmuck LaPlante is facing hard time for a credit card scam he pulled while “this fake, this phony” hogs all the credit for his good deed. Frears and Peoples may call this a comedy, but it's a dark one at best. No one is entirely innocent in this film, not the media, not Bubber, not LaPlante, not even the citizens who enthusiastically grovel at the feet of this heroic everyman without question. Hero dips into the world of Capra's Meet John Doe, and comes up with an even more repellant visage of the Media/Citizenry connection than that film. There's no real happy ending here, either, and that's the way it should be. Holding a mirror up to our society and finding ourselves lacking is an old trick, but one that rings as true today -- perhaps even more so -- as ever.