Directed by: Asghar Farhadi
Premise: An Iranian film. Rahim (Amir Jadidi) is serving time in debtors’ prison for a loan he was unable to repay. He comes into possession of a handbag of gold coins but returns the gold to its owner. When the story is picked up by the news media, Rahim becomes a celebrity.
What Works: Filmmaker Asghar Farhadi specializes in making naturalistic and complex human dramas. A Hero is a sophisticated work about a man who has been unjustly imprisoned but acts in ways that are ethically questionable. Rahim is imprisoned for unpaid debts as a result of being swindled. When his girlfriend (Sahar Goldust) comes into possession of a handbag containing gold coins, Rahim considers using the gold to pay his debts but when the exchange rate proves low he opts to return the purse to its owner. Rahim’s good deed makes him a celebrity but public opinion turns as inconsistencies in his story are revealed. A Hero is specific to its Iranian setting but the story’s ethical conundrums have a broad appeal. This movie questions the degree to which intentions matter and the meaning of heroism and the fickle nature of public opinion. But it’s not a cynical film. The characters act out of a mix of altruism and self-interest, with characters pushed to act increasingly ethically erratic as the pressure mounts. A Hero is a carefully structured story in which the protagonist gradually builds a house of cards that is destined to collapse and the filmmakers successfully draw out the tension as Rahim continually leverages his position. The ethical morass of the story is helped by the performances. No one in the film is really villainous nor is anyone purely heroic. That’s best exemplified by Amir Jadidi’s performance as Rahim. For most of the movie, Jadidi plays Rahim’s interior life very subtly in ways that reflect the ambiguity of the character and the film. A Hero adds another layer with the interplay of social media. The movie doesn’t rely on this too much but social media figures into the drama. As Rahim’s situation becomes more desperate social media heightens the feeling of claustrophobia and impending doom.
What Doesn’t: Like many of Asghar Farhadi’s movies, A Hero is about characters in ethically ambiguous situations. The movie plays this out credibly except for one key moment near the end. Rahim publicly loses his temper with his creditor, sending the character into a downward spiral. This moment comes across forced. Rahim’s outburst plays out of character, as though the screenwriters are manufacturing a crisis in order to escalate the drama.
DVD extras: Available on Amazon Prime Video.
Bottom Line: A Hero is a challenging film because it demands the viewer consider the choices and circumstances of its characters without offering easy or simplistic solutions. It’s complex storytelling that questions how we understand heroism and virtue.
Episode: #889 (January 30, 2022)