Is there a screenwriter in this world better than Asghar Farhadi? His ability to take modest stories and spin them into grand moral schisms of fierce complexity is unmatched anywhere. Few people have a better understanding of the consequences of everyday decisions or the dark side of good intentions. A Hero is his latest film, one rich with suspense, where prejudice, misunderstanding, and a dollop of untruth mix to turn one man’s glory into a prison.
The man, Rahim (an incredible Amir Jadidi), is already a prisoner, serving time for an unpaid debt from three years earlier. He’s on a two-day leave with a plan to get himself free. It involves some gold coins found in an abandoned bag near a bus station. The gold is worth about half his debt, and he hopes that it’s enough for his creditor, Bahram (Mohsen Tanabandeh), to let him work to earn the rest. It was Farkhondeh (Sahar Goldoost) – the woman Rahim hopes to marry upon release – who found the gold, and who urges him to put it towards his debt. At the last moment, Rahim is struck by his conscience and decides instead to try and find the owner of the coins, and return it back to them.
This good deed, spurred by good intentions but also by other factors (Bahram was still not committed to the deal), turns Rahim into a local hero. With news coverage, both in print and on television, Rahim’s act makes him a minor celebrity. It curries favor with the local community who begin pressuring Bahram to release Rahim of his debt. A local charity raises thousands for his cause. Rahim accepts the good graces with modesty, though it’s obvious he appreciates the attention. On all his media appearances, he brings his son, whose crippling stutter often casts a minor shadow on his glory. Rahim is so quick to soak in the attention, he is caught completely unaware when the tide turns and public opinion shifts. As the dark side of being a viral sensation presents itself, Rahim proves unprepared to deal with it.
What’s brilliant about Farhadi is that the degree of blame for any of his character’s downfall is always up for debate. The deeds they perform often lie in a grey area between altruism and vanity, inspired by righteousness but motivated by selfish gain. People are punished for their moral choices, but they are also victims of chance, cruel twists of the knife that make bad situations worse. A Hero has a centered focus on internet culture, particularly social media, and the way it creates celebrity and controversy. Rahim’s freedom is often held in the balance of what strangers think of him on the internet. More so, the people with the power to effect his life live in grave fear of what those strangers can accomplish.
A Hero isn’t preoccupied with milkshake ducks or cancel culture, but it’s clear that this is the reality that Rahim exists in. His decision to give the gold back to its original owner (to a woman, it ends up, who vanishes along with any evidence that this good deed actually happened), is motivated by his faith but he is not afraid to use it to his advantage, cosying up to police officials who also take advantage of Rahim’s heartwarming story to wash away their misdeeds. Farhadi’s genius is how he sees the totality of each of his characters, the subtext to their decisions and the unconscious of their actions. It’s a truly humanist form of storytelling and one that brims with empathy and crackles with suspense.
This is Farhadi’s best film since the 2011 masterpiece A Separation. Like that film, the less you know going in the better. The script, so taut, closes in on the audience as much as it closes in on Rahim, unraveling his hero narrative as quickly as it builds it up. As Rahim, Amir Jadidi is phenomenal, portraying a man defeated by shame whose one glimpse of hope is dashed before his eyes. It recalls the devastation of the greatest Italian Neorealist films, where class and prejudice keep people trapped in vicious cycles they have no recourse to escape. Social media presents itself as a savior, before ultimately bringing the most scathing judgment. This is a masterful film, and further proof that Farhadi is one of our greatest living directors.
Written and Directed by Asghar Farhadi