By Bradley Lane
The Iranian writer/director Asghar Farhadi has made a career for himself exploring simple moral dilemmas and finding within them complex human truths. Originally finding international acclaim with his 2011 Academy Award-winning film, A Separation, he used the framing device of a divorce to explore themes like class, family and perspective. Farhadi has a keen eye for excavating these scenarios for each and every morsel of emotional and intellectual intrigue. In a lot of ways, his films feel like a snowball rolling down a hill; each film starts calmly, quietly and clearly linear before growing in speed, scale and intensity until it becomes like an avalanche, destroying any easy moral reading of the film’s events. A Hero adds to Farhadi’s lineage of moral tales, but this one explores uniquely modern ideas through his time-tested narrative framework.
When the film begins, we find Rahim held in prison by his creditor. However, while on leave from prison, Rahim and his bride-to-be hatch a plan to get him released. Using a bag of gold coins found at a bus stop he and his partner attempt to negotiate with his creditor to have him released so they can get married and work off the remainder of his debt. However, due to a series of overlapping conditions surrounding his creditor, his debt, and the gold itself, Rahim makes the decision to try and return the gold to its original owner.
It goes without saying that if you are a fan of Farhadi’s films this will absolutely be for you, however it is not the film to make nonbelievers into converts. A Hero sticks tried and true to Farhadi’s trademark narrative style. Thankfully, the ideas being explored by Farhadi have never been more complex or modern. Most obviously, the film is an exploration of the weight and consequences of the public eye. The way Rahim is constantly assaulted from all sides with opinions and thoughts about his character, looks, or actions is a remarkably visceral recreation of life in the social media 24-hour news cycle.
I can imagine some viewers unfamiliar with Farhadi might find A Hero relatively dry. Farhadi is a cinematic formalist and favors careful blocking and shot composition over a fast pace, flashy cuts, or non-diegetic musical cues. It is certainly a challenging watch compared to modern Hollywood conventions, however great performances and narrative momentum are enough of a hook to keep new audiences entertained for the magic of the film to reveal itself.
The modernization of a tested formula means A Hero is perfectly suited for audiences familiar and new to Farhadi and allows them to immerse themselves in his steady paced drama. A Hero explores class, greed, forgiveness, social media, public discourse, and so much more through a bafflingly simple seeming setup. For audiences seeking a film that challenges their thoughts just as much as their emotions, A Hero is a must see and is currently streaming on Amazon Prime Video. – 4/5 stars