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'A Hero' is one of Farhadi's best

Amir Hossein Shojaei/Amazon Studios

As we open Iranian director Asghar Farhadi’s film A Hero, Rahim is being released on two-day leave from prison, where he’s being held for not paying off a debt to his former brother-in-law. Rahim has plans to erase some of that debt while he’s out, in the hopes he’ll be released from jail for good. Chiefly, he plans to sell some gold coins that were in a purse his girlfriend found on the street.

But Rahim has a change of heart and decides instead to track down the owner of the purse and return it. And this good deed sets in motion the rest of the film, and many things Rahim never intended to happen. He doesn’t have any desire to go around telling people what he did, but the prison sees an opportunity for some good publicity, so they call up a TV station to interview this model inmate who’s provided such a good example for everyone else. Rahim’s story spreads quickly, and while he’s still reserved about the whole thing, it’s also pretty easy to get swept up.

We are, no doubt, so skilled at building people up and then tearing them right back down, and we can do all of this incredibly rapidly these days, with stories and rumors spreading instantly. And while this is very much what is happening in A Hero, Farhadi’s films are often exceedingly morally complex—we do root for Rahim, but also he’s had to tell a few small lies that end up compounding. His ex-brother-in-law seems frustratingly pigheaded about his refusal to release Rahim from his debt, but he’s also been burned too many times before. There’s a whole lot of outside opportunism swirling around Rahim, and a lot of people trying to cover their own rears, but then again, this is kind of just how people are. The thing is, we can basically understand where everyone is coming from. And at his best, that’s what Farhadi can do—A Hero is a tense, absorbing story where we always feel on shaky ground, and we’re forced to realize it’s not as easy as heroes and villains.

A Hero is on Amazon Prime

Fletcher Powell has worked at KMUW since 2009 as a producer, reporter, and host. He's been the host of All Things Considered since 2012 and KMUW's movie critic since 2016. Fletcher is a member of the Critics Choice Association.