James Jay Edwards

A Hero Tiptoes Through an Ethical Minefield

(A Hero, photo by Amirhossein Shojaei, courtesy Amazon Studios)

James Jay Edwards reviews A Hero, an Iranian film written and directed by Asghar Farhadi and starring Amir Jadidi. (Amazon Studios)

 

January is generally seen as a dumping ground for movies. It’s the time when studios will release movies in which they have little-to-no confidence, but just want to provide with theatrical runs.

Unrelatedly, it’s also when the official selections for the Academy Awards Best International Feature competition get domestic releases. A Hero, the newest film from visionary director Asghar Farhadi (The Salesman, A Separation), is Iran’s offering for this year’s Oscars.

 

(A Hero, theatrical release poster, courtesy Amazon Studios)

A Hero is about a man named Rahim (Amir Jadidi from Cold Sweat and Zero Day) who is in prison for defaulting on a debt. He has a two-day leave and, with it, he comes up with a plan to convince his creditor to withdraw the complaint against him so he can be released and work to pay back the debt. Of course, things don’t go as planned for the well-meaning inmate, and it all quickly spirals out of control.

 

(A Hero, photo by Amirhossein Shojaei, courtesy Amazon Studios)

Asghar Farhadi got the idea for A Hero from actual news stories of down-on-their-luck people who performed good deeds and became media “heroes” because of it. While Rahim is clearly the protagonist of the story, Farhadi explores his flaws more than his graces, casting suspicion upon his character in the eyes of the audience. His plan revolves around paying a partial amount of his debt with some gold that he “found,” and while he internally doubts this unscrupulous scheme, he still wrestles with moral dilemmas until not even the viewer knows the entire truth. Each decision he makes leads him further into a minefield of ethical dilemmas, whether it’s agreeing to lie to make the news story better or refusing to let his family be exploited for sympathy.

 


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First and foremost, A Hero is a character study. Rahim is not a bad man, he has just coupled bad luck with poor choices, so he winds up in prison. His creditor, Bahram (Paytakht’s Mohsen Tanabandeh), is also not a bad man, he’s just a guy who has been taken advantage of for too long and now has the power to hold someone accountable. Once Rahim’s plan starts to unravel, characters seem to pick sides and either try to help him further cover things up or try to expose his supposed dishonesty. And none of the characters seem to be real villains. There’s no black or white in A Hero, just different shades of grey.

Asghar Farhadi is an understated and restrained filmmaker, and the subtleties of A Hero just contribute to the ambiguity of the characters. Much of the movie is spent trying to figure out who is telling the truth and who is running a grift, and the answer isn’t as clear-cut as it may seem in the beginning. Farhadi is a master of giving the audience the information and letting them figure things out for themselves, even if that figuring out takes the entire running time of the movie. He keeps you on your toes.

 

(A Hero, photos by Amirhossein Shojaei, courtesy Amazon Studios)

This year’s Oscar field for Best International Feature is stacked with quality entries, so there’s no guarantee that A Hero will wind up with a nomination. Nevertheless, it’s worth a watch, if only to put yourself into the manipulative cinematic hands of Asghar Farhadi for a couple of hours.

A Hero is in select theaters now and will stream on Amazon on January 21st.

 

 

Check out the podcast Eye On Horror for more with James Jay Edwards, and also features Jonathan Correia and Jacob Davison.

 

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