Written by Patrick Hao
Asghar Farhadi has a knack for making stories about characters who are neither moral nor immoral people. Rather, his people are forced to make desperate choices by the external pressures placed upon them by the systems of society. A Hero is Farhadi’s tongue-in-cheek title. Not many of his films have outright heroes after all and his lead character, Rahim (Amir Jadidi) is far from the definition of a hero. He is, however, a decent man which is the most anyone can seem to be in a Farhadi movie.
A Hero follows Rahim on a two-day leave from debtor’s prison in Iran. During this time, he concocts with his secret fiancé (Sahar Goldust) who has found a purse full of gold coins that can pay off half of his debt. When the holder of his debt declines to take partial payment and relieve him from his imprisonment, Rahim decides to return the purse to its rightful owner.
This “act” becomes the fulcrum point of Farhadi’s parable. What is a true act of altruism? Rahim’s selflessness only manifested after the gold coins could not serve his purpose. But he still took the steps to return the coins. Afterward, his act is considered heroic by the prison that Rahim has been an inmate in. They take this opportunity for good media public relations, especially after the prison recently suffered from a suicide by an inmate. Rahim becomes a media darling as his story is twisted beyond what happened. And with that comes the inevitable backlash as Rahim’s little act becomes bigger with elaborations which create holes that skeptics including Rahim’s debt holder, Bahram (Mohsen Tanabandeh) begin to dig into.
Farhadi does not seem to judge. Rather his intentions are like that of a college philosophy professor. He presents the scenario to his audience and just when the audience begins to form an opinion, Farhadi introduces just enough of a moral complication that it changes the equation. It also helps that Farhadi has become a master of plotting, as each reveal heightens the situation without ever betraying the spirit of his characters. Not many directors can make a movie about the internet’s ability to valorize and vilify in an instant without sounding like they are hand wringing.
At the center is a great performance from Amir Jadidi. He is doe-eyed and pathetic in a way that you want him to succeed to save him from further embarrassment. This is the performance Farhadi hangs his entire movie upon as Farhadi builds layers upon Rahim’s pathetic nature. As Bahram says about Rahim at one point, “Don’t be fooled by that hangdog face.”
If there is anything to fault in A Hero it is moments of storytelling convenience that are necessary when considering this story as a fable, but not as emotionally satisfying when considering Farhadi’s earlier works like A Separation. But there is no one making work as compelling as Farhadi dealing with the complexity of human decisions without ever imposing outright judgment on his characters. There are no heroes in Farhadi’s films. Just humans.
A Hero Trailer
A Hero enters limited theatrical release on January 7th and will be available to stream on Prime Video January 27th.