Asghar Farhadi’s latest is one of his best, blending moral complications and social commentary to deliver an intellectual and emotional experience with a screenplay that should land on end-of-year best lists.
Known for his knack for moral dilemmas that haunt the lives of his characters, Asghar Farhadi’s latest continues the director’s fascination with stories that, while may seem personal at first, serve to present an analysis of collective thinking and social norms that restrict, and often obstruct, those very same characters whose stories are being told. A Hero is no different, but compared to Farhadi’s recent works, including the Oscar-winning The Salesman, this is a much more layered, more successful jab at what has become or Iranian society.
Rahim (Amir Jadidi) is calligrapher who just got permission to get out of prison for just two days. Due to a debt he simply couldn’t pay back, he was imprisoned with no hope to get out. But things change when, just before his two-day leave, his girlfriend Farkondeh finds a bag with coins of gold that could end her lover’s misery. But what seems to be a dilemma of choice for Rahim soon turns into a series of layered complications as we follow how one single choice could have multiple ramifications on the lives of everyone involved.
Rather than succumbing to melodramatic routes, Farhadi makes the right choice in turning this into both a drama that brings in lingering questions about identity the age of social media, the true meaning of heroism at a time when our deeds of virtue often collide with our innate need for social validation, and how skepticism has become the norm; leaving us in a constant state of doubting rather then believing, finding ways to fit our pessimistic view of others, perhaps a reflection of how we see ourselves rather than latching on glimpses of hope when we find someone worth celebrating in spite of, as well as because of, the fact that heroic deeds of virtue which should be simply a duty has turned into something rarely witnessed.
These big questions turn A Hero into something that makes you truly ponder rather than a drama that takes you from point A to point B. But what makes the film particularly effective is how it deconstructs the journey of Rahim thanks to a magnificent screenplay that is not interested in a rather conventional storytelling, but in a between-the-lines approach that makes almost every turn in the story serve a double function: at once an evolution of the protagonist’s story and first and foremost a stark look at the big picture that plagues and torments the characters at hand.
Midway through the picture, and especially if you’re a Farhadi regular, you know that what seems like a simple story of honesty and reward will soon take much darker, more layered turns – and it does in spades. And instead of a didactic approach, one that was a recent critique to Farhadi’s recent efforts, it is done brilliantly as our attention is retained on Rahim’s journey while also organically turned on the macro. What makes the film work, aside from its Oscar-worthy screenplay, is the performance of Amir Jadidi as Rahim. Jadidi completely embodies the character’s innocence and torment in ways that makes it extremely relatable at every turn of the story. It’s one of the best cases, at least in Farhadi’s filmography, when casting truly elevates the film into becoming something much more believable, relatable and felt – completely sweeping you in Rahim’s journey as you feel for him at first, find yourself uncomfortably doubting him later on as Farhadi challenges your own projections and beliefs only to then reach a conclusion that is brilliantly effective at the very end.
Bottom line: A Hero is peak Farhadi. A masterful film that dissects society’s decay and makes astute observations on what became of us as human beings in a world where skepticism is the norm and virtue, honor and honesty have all receded to the sidelines.
This review is from the Toronto International Film Festival. Amazon Studios will release A Hero in select theaters on January 7, 2022 and on Prime Video January 22, 2022.
Photo courtesy of Amazon Studios