A Hero reminds audiences that Asghar Farhadi is one of the finest filmmakers working today, with yet another tantalizing social thriller full of timely themes.
The release of a new Asghar Farhadi film is practically an Avengers-level event for cinephiles. Recipient of two Best Foreign Language Film Oscars – one for 2011’s A Separation and one for 2016’s The Salesman – Farhadi is a leading voice in Iranian cinema, and one of the most respected international filmmakers the world over, consistently hailed for both his perceptive consideration of the human condition and his ability to draw deeply authentic drama out of social and familial dynamics in a way few other auteurs can. And, though his last film was released only three years ago (the Javier Bardem and Penélope Cruz-led Everybody Knows) this year’s A Hero still feels like a rousing return to form for the filmmaker, with a thought-provoking domestic thriller that feels far more in line with A Separation and The Salesman, telling a sociopolitical story about honor and humanity that seems simultaneously culturally specific and undeniably universal – a true Farhadi trademark. In a year full of incredible international features (Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s Drive My Car, Joachim Trier’s The Worst Person in the World, and Paolo Sorrentino’s The Hand of God, to name a few), A Hero rises to the top, bolstered by Farhadi’s signature shrewd screenwriting and an exceptional ensemble.
Rahim (Amir Jadidi, of A Dragon Arrives! and Cold Sweat) has just been released from prison on a two-day leave, during which he hopes to repay the debt that sent him to jail three years ago with the help of his brother-in-law Hossein (Alireza Jahandideh). His creditor, Bahram (Mohsen Tanabandeh, of Iranian TV series Capital), is the brother of Rahim’s former wife, and therefore has it out for the convict, doing everything in his power to destroy his reputation in the community and keep him locked up. However, Rahim has his sister, Hossein, his son, and his new love, Farkhondeh (Sahar Goldust) on his side, the latter of whom helps out with the gift of a handbag containing seventeen gold coins she found on the side of the street. Together, the two try to sell the coins to a dealer, but when the potential price is not even half of the money he owes Bahram and his conscience starts to curdle, he takes it upon himself to advertise the missing bag and return it to the poor absent-minded woman who left it behind.
In any other movie, that would be that. But with Farhadi at the helm, this chronicle becomes much more complicated than it ever seemed on the surface, as word of Rahim’s good deed gets around, and he is soon interviewed by a TV crew and hailed as a hero, even being offered money that a charitable organization has collected on his behalf to get him out of prison and find him a new profession. And yet, through it all, Bahram makes it his mission to discredit Rahim, refusing to believe that the man who owes him money is now some virtuous saint, and when cracks start to crop up in Rahim’s story (such as the fact that he initially tells authorities he found the bag instead of Farkhondeh, wanting to keep their tryst a secret), others begin to believe the corrupt creditor as well. With Rahim striving to both clear his name and secure his path out of prison, he starts to lose lifelines left and right, learning the hard way that there is truly no good deed that goes unpunished.
The success of A Hero lies first and foremost in Farhadi’s singularly studious screenwriting, through which he analyzes this dilemma from every perspective possible, stretching the tension of his script so taut that it almost snaps, causing our stress to skyrocket as well. While no minor lie of Rahim’s is made out of malice, it proves near-impossible to convince his community otherwise, illustrating how, despite our society’s yearning for a return to “decency,” it’s always all-too-easy to revert to our natural state of cynicism and become convinced of the worst of others, refusing to offer one the benefit of the doubt and instead pick them apart to pieces until there’s nothing left. It’s a brutal sit to watch such a sincerely nice yet sadly naïve individual like Rahim be poked and prodded at by person after person as if he were no more than some lousy lab experiment, but Farhadi makes the affair enormously entertaining at the same time, captivating audiences with the compelling conversations he crafts between his characters, which are suffused with scintillating substance that provokes thoughts and considerations that will linger long after the credits roll.
Equally effective is Farhadi’s exploration of the sins of social media, and how it can so easily be used as a force for good and evil. When Rahim is first made a hero for his returning of the lost handbag, he’s only able to become such a sensation through social media, with praise passed around seemingly every second, elevating his status in society almost overnight. However, as those aforementioned shortcomings in his story are made apparent, social media runs rampant with lies at the same speed as soon as one or two are leaked to the public or an unflattering photo/video of Rahim is shared, showing how quick they are to turn on the poor former prisoner without being made privy to the complexity of his case. Farhadi isn’t staging some anti-social media screed here, but instead, he simply puts the full power of these platforms on display, demonstrating both how beneficial they can be at boosting one’s public profile and how dire an effect they can have on an individual when used for perverse purposes. The services themselves aren’t inherently insidious, but the mob mentality that can form amongst users is undoubtedly malicious – and that’s made clear here.
Jadidi capably leads this electrifying ensemble cast, portraying Rahim with a convincing candor that makes us never doubt his claims and support him through every struggle, despite the efforts of others to convince us otherwise. Even whilst effectively conveying his cluelessness, there’s such an affecting authenticity to Jadidi’s performance that it’s impossible to be perturbed by him in spite of his avoidable stumbles here or there, as he persistently persuades us into believing the consistency of his character and his commitment to honor above all else. Jahandideh is wonderful as Rahim’s world-weary brother-in-law, doing his best to be of use to Rahim and safeguard his image in society, while Tanabandeh is a ferocious foil as the belligerent Bahram, terrifying in his incessant terrorization of this individual and never holding back in his indignation. However, it’s the genial Goldust who serves as the undeniable standout of the supporting cast, imbuing her Farkhondeh with delicate depth and brilliantly balancing both her admiration for Rahim and her anger against those who would do him wrong, skillfully switching moods on a dime.
While most maintain that A Separation remains Asghar Farhadi’s magnum opus, the smoothly scripted and agilely acted A Hero is more than worthy of being mentioned in the same breath, once again proving how few filmmakers are able to so sensitively take a single situation and explore it with such effective elegance and efficiency while simultaneously suffusing it with timely social substance and tackling themes surrounding everyday modern struggles that force us to reconsider our own place in these potential problems. It’s a fascinating work of fiction that nevertheless feels all-too-real, pushing us to probe our psyches and predict what side we would end up on in these potential problems and consider how we might even contribute to its escalation. Farhadi asks a lot of tough questions in A Hero with few easy answers – given the endurance of many of the issues he examines – but what remains is a riveting exposé of the cost of being a “good person” and an audacious argument that such a status might be impossible in today’s cynical social climate.
Amazon Studios will release A Hero in theaters January 7th, 2022 and
on Prime Video January 21st, 2022.