Film Review: A Hero
Director: Asghar Farhadi
In Theater 01.07 Streaming on Amazon Prime 01.21
The superhero genre is such an unstoppable force these days that the need to see Spider-Man: No Way Home turned movie theaters into omicron retail outlets over the holiday break. For all the emphasis on people in costumes wailing on other people in costumes, the simple question of right vs. wrong is too often left largely unexplored, both in film and, especially, in life. A Hero, the new film from acclaimed Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi, takes direct aim at the issue.
A Hero follows Rahim (Amir Jadidi, Zero Day), a simple and kind man who is confined to debtor’s prison because he is unable to repay his creditor, Bahram (Mohsen Tanabandeh), the brother-in-law of Ramin’s ex-wife. If you’ve ever thought “I sure wish that my ex-wife’s brother-in-law could be a bigger part of my life,” A Hero will certainly change your mind. Rahim is given a two-day leave, which he spends seeing both his girlfriend and his son from a previous marriage, Siavash (Salah Karamei).
When his girlfriend finds an abandoned handbag filled with 17 gold coins, Rahim considers trying to cash them in to help pay off his debt. His conscience won’t allow it, and Rahim decides to put up signs asking the owner of the lost handbag to call him at the prison. When the owner does contact him, the story gets out, and Rahim becomes something of a celebrity. Under Iranian law, Rahim can be freed either when he pays off the debt or if Bahram agrees to forgive it, and the publicity seems like it may be working in his favor. Suddenly, the veracity of Rahim’s story is brought into question. As the fickle whims of social media keep changing, the situation becomes more complicated than Rahim ever imagined.
Farhadi (The Salesman) lets the story unfold naturally, believably and without unnecessary flourish. A Hero becomes an involving fable about honesty, compassion, manipulation and the choices we make. It’s also a compelling commentary on the double-edged sword of internet publicity and stardom. Jadidi gives a grounded and likeable performance that drives the film, and Rahim reminded me of a Frank Capra protagonist, bearing in mind that even George Bailey wasn’t perfect. Tanabandeh is just as good, and the choice to play Bahram as a man who earnestly sees himself as the injured party in the situation is probably the best choice in the movie, allowing room for questions and complexities rather than just making him the snarling villain of the piece.
Karamei is quite effective as Siavash, a character who suffers from a severe speech impediment, and the relationship between father and son is a well-drawn and emotionally involving one. A Hero has some trouble with juggling its characters and feels a bit muddled at times, but a lot of the latter is intentional, and it ultimately works toward a more satisfying ending.
A Hero is very much worth your time, and while it may not have the dazzling effects, larger-than-life action or nerd-gasmic appeal of Spider-Man: No Way Home, it’s a lot more likely to spark thoughts and discussion that relate to your real life and your efforts to be a true hero in the lives of those you love, including your own. –Patrick Gibbs