VOD film review: A Hero (2021)
Ivan Radford | On 23, Jan 2022
Director: Asghar Farhadi
Cast: Amir Jadidi, Mohsen Tanabandeh, Sahar Goldust
“Where in the world are people celebrated for not doing the wrong thing?” That’s the pointed question asked by Bahram (Mohsen Tanabandeh) halfway through A Hero, Asghar Farhadi’s latest. True to form, it’s a morally provocative sympathy-twister, a rolelrcoaster of ethical dilemmas and painful consequences.
The film follows Rahim (Amir Jadidi), a man who has been in debtors prison for three years. Bahram, a former friend, is his creditor, and is currently owed a total of 150,000 tomans. We pick up with Rahim as he gets out on two days’ leave, during which he hopes for an opportunity to persuade Bahram to accept a bond that will let him be free and slowly repay the remainder of his debt. Key to his plan is a bag of 17 gold coins found by his girlfriend, Farkhondeh (Sahar Goldust). Sell them off and they would get enough to pay back half of the loan – surely that would be enough to change Rahim’s fortunes?
Things go wrong almost immediately, as the coins turn out not to be worth all that much. Unable to publicly divulge the nature of his and Farkhondeh’s relationship, he instead decides to return the bag to its rightful owner – claiming that he found the coins in the process. What ensues is a deliciously thorny situation, as the wider world gets wind of his decision to return the bag to the proper person and holds him as some kind of saint for being conscientious and honest.
Except, of course, he’s anything but, and Rahim is all too aware that the positive publicity will help his cause to present himself as a reformed man. The more support he gets, the more charitable donations pile up to help him pay off his debt. All the while, Bahram looks on bewildered at how this creditor is being praised for his disingenuous do-gooding.
Farhadi has a real knack for social dramas with a realistic edge, and this unfolds with a documentary-like naturalism that makes the whole thing cringe-inducingly enjoyable to watch. We find ourselves rooting for Rahim, then siding with Bahram, who tried to do the right thing by Rahim before he went to prison, and then despairing at the daisy chain of unexpected effects that each action causes.
The messiness that unspools gets a little too messy, with the script’s second half lacking the simple punch of, say, A Separation. The complex conflicts on display ultimately extend beyond our protagonist and hold their own pointed critique. But A Hero is best when zeroed in on its central subject, and Jadidi’s two-faced yet charismatically earnest figure is fantastic to see in action, topped only by his innocent, stammering son, Siavash (Saleh Karimai), who is paraded in front of the cameras at every opportunity. Even then, Farhadi deftly avoids taking a stance, leaving you straddling the fence and trying to work out on which side you should land. It’s a shrewdly constructed house of cards that’s stacked with slow-burn suspense.