Morally complex and filled with tension, Asghar Farhadi’s A Hero goes to great lengths to show the levels at which the truth lies. Featuring a commanding lead performance from Amir Jadidi, Farhadi again wrestles with weighty themes set in the political climate of his native Iran.
Rahim (Jadidi) is in prison because of a debt he is unable to repay. During a two-day leave, his girlfriend Farkhondeh (Sahar Goldust) gives him a discovered bag with 17 gold coins. Aiming to sell them to pay back a portion of his debt to his creditor Bahram (Mohsen Tanabandeh), Rahim has them appraised. Morally conflicted, he convinces Farkhondeh that they should discover who lost the coins and return them.
Back in prison, the female owner calls him and correctly identifies the bag and its contents. Rahim’s sister returns the bag to the woman and Rahim’s actions are noted by the prison officials. In order to distract from recent bad publicity in the prison, the officials promote Rahim’s story through the media. In the subsequent coverage, Rahim is granted further leave while others appeal to Bahram to release him from prison.
As the coverage continues, pressure mounts on Bahram while the validity of Rahim’s story is called into question. While Rahim scrambles to fit the pieces together in a way to stay out of prison, he pushes the moral boundary of what he is willing to do to accomplish that goal.
Rahim’s selflessness is one of the primary reasons others want his release, but how selfless was his deed? What small details would have changed his own actions? Is there even such thing as a selfless deed? Rahim goes out of his way to make sure this deed was done by him, despite acting like he doesn’t want the credit. If this is the worst thing he does in order to get out of prison, can you even blame him?
The truth of the situation is paramount to the narrative. Though very early on, despite the accuracy of what we see is true, every detail becomes important. It doesn’t matter that Rahim did the right thing, it matters what can be proven and how it transpired in the first place. When the accuracy of the event is called into question, Rahim scrambles to back up his story, but circumstances get in the way. If a crucial piece of evidence would help, it is in the most difficult of places.
Rahim reaches a point where he realizes his son (Saleh Karimai) is being exploited in order to keep him out of prison. The boy, saddled with a debilitating stutter, is brought up on stage and in front of cameras on a regular basis to gain the necessary sympathy for his father. Rahim’s own pride runs afoul of his son’s dignity.
There is also a snowball effect to Rahim’s actions. When the veracity of his story comes into question, he takes ethically-gray steps to verify what he cannot with evidence. Despite the knowledge that his action was the truth, the perception of his potential deception is more important than the actual facts.
As with all of Farhadi’s films, A Hero populates the outskirts of the narrative with great character actors. Sarina Farhadi (the director’s daughter) plays Bahram’s eternally skeptical daughter, layered with disdain and distrust. Fereshteh Sadrorafaii plays the leader of a charitable organization that wants to help Rahim, but also wants to keep her charity’s name in the public’s good graces. Karimai rips your heart out with every word, but never drops to a level of parody.
Goldust, in her film debut, is stunning as a woman who loves Rahim to a fault and will do anything she can to see him free. She also skirts the line of moral ambiguity but does it without the hesitation that Rahim does. She is so much more than what is on the surface.
On paper, Tanabandeh is the villain of the story, but there are no true villains. His performance is that of complete righteousness, but with the world screaming out to appeal to his humanity. He never takes the villainous turn you expect, but instead presents the facts of the situation in a blunt manner. His character makes too much sense every time he talks and it puts you on his side, despite wanting to be against him.
Jadidi appears in almost every scene and dominates your attention. He starts with a coy, unassuming smile and mild manner. He turns into a frazzled man burned out by exasperation. In between, he slowly reaches from one extreme to the other. Never siding completely on the side of selfless or selfish, Jadidi delivers one of the male performances of the year.
Though by no means an easy watch, A Hero shows the complex nature of the truth and the comfort levels people are willing to go through to achieve their goals. Farhadi proves once again his ability to present a straightforward situation and complicate it with the unfortunate barbs of human nature. One of the best films of the year.
A Hero is in theaters and will be available to stream on Amazon Prime on January 22