Were it not for the contrived and emotionally overwrought ending, I would consider this to be a truly great film.
The 1992 film Hero starring Dustin Hoffman, Andy Garcia and Geena Davis begins as the story of, well, of a complete asshole who is down on his luck and facing the possibility of a prison sentence. He's a petty thief and a dealer in stolen goods. We get a sense of how much of a creep Bernie LaPlante (Hoffman) is when he steals a hundred dollars out of his court appointed lawyer's purse while in the midst of his own trial. This may seem far fetched, but Dustin Hoffman is able to pull it off convincingly enough that we feel very uncomfortable watching him rather than groaning at a believability gap.
We learn Bernie is a bullshit artist to the point where he suffers from a major "boy who cried wolf" problem. No one believes anything he says because he's lied to them and let them down so often in the past, whether it is his employer, his ex-wife or bartender Tom Arnold. When his wreck of a car breaks down, he finds himself with a front row seat for a plane crashing into a bridge. As he watches the plane burn, he hears people inside, calling out for help. He wants nothing to do with them. This isn't his business. The police and fire department will be there. This is what they are there for.
Eventually, Bernie gives in, but not willingly. At all. Swearing at everyone and everything and feeling these people being trapped in a burning plane is a major inconvenience in his already messed up life, Bernie agrees to help force the door to the plane open from the outside, but only after he removes his "hundred dollar shoes" to keep them from being ruined. Once he does, he figures he can move along, but a young boy insists he help find his father, who is still trapped in the plane. At no point does Bernie assume the usual trappings of heroes. He continues to be very annoyed and bitches at everyone he ends up pulling off the plane. He is just trying to find the boy's father so the kid will shut up and leave him alone, to the point where he actually wants to leave everyone else trapped or injured where they are. Amongst the people he pulls off the plane is news reporter Gale Gayley (Davis). Even as he rescues her, Bernie has the presence of mind to steal her purse. Following the mayhem, Bernie disappears into the night, wanting to continue to keep a low profile.
Bernie becomes the "unknown hero," the "angel" who saved fifty-four people from certain death. No one can identify him or find him, so a million dollar reward is offered by the news station if the hero comes forward and agrees to an interview. The only evidence of his identity comes from one of the "hundred dollar shoes" he lost at the crash site. Having given the remaining shoe to a homeless man, John Bubber (Garcia), and having been arrested for attempting to sell Gale Gayley's credit cards, Bernie has no way to claim the reward. Instead, John Bubber, and countless others, come forward, but Bubber is declared the hero as he has the matching shoe.
At this point the film becomes a massive parody of the media, as they turn Bubber into a saint. He does numerous interviews, picked up by the national media, visits sick children in hospitals and finds himself dealing with going from being a homeless man living in his car to a celebrity adored and worshipped by millions. John Bubber is a good man with a good heart, and unlike Bernie LaPlante, he truly cares about people and is at heart a hero. By the time the network decides they want to make a television movie about the heroic rescue, Bubber starts to cave in. He has fame, fortune and status built on a lie.
Dustin Hoffman's performance is painful, but in a very good way. You aren't sure if you want him to get the recognition or not. You find yourself liking him, even though you never stop thinking he's a complete asshole, and that is the magic of this film. What is the definition of a hero? John Bubber gives speeches about it, as much trying to define the concept as trying to ease his own guilt. At this point the story soars, with Bernie trying to get anyone to listen to him and Bubber slowly falling apart under the intense media attention. While I was personally disappointed and let down by the ending, some of the final scenes where Bernie lectures his son about there being no truth, only layers of bullshit, are powerful. If you are a fan of the anti-hero, this is the film for you.
I recommend watching this film on a really bad couch while eating store brand potato chips and drinking Seven and Seven. You'll understand why only after you see the film.
Oh, and Chevy Chase is in the movie, sort of disguised and completely uncredited.
The film is known as Accidental Hero in the UK and possibly elsewhere. Thanks to the lovely and talented Catchpole for this information.