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'A Hero' Review

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July 16, 2021
Hunter Friesen
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A Hero premiered at the 2021 Cannes Film Festival. Amazon Studios will release the film at a later date.

Without much fanfare, Iranian auteur Asghar Farhadi has become one of the most consistent filmmakers of the new millennium. His work has amassed him prestigious premieres at film festivals, two Academy Awards for Best International Feature (2011’s A Separation and 2016’s The Salesman), and the opportunity to work with some of the biggest international stars. Premiering at this year’s Cannes Film Festival (which usually serves as his launching pad) is his newest film, A Hero

Set within modern Iran, A Hero follows the life of Rahim, who is currently on two-day parole from his prison sentence, which he is serving because of his inability to pay off a debt to a local lender. When Rahim and his girlfriend find a bag of gold coins at a bus stop, they decide to pawn them off to help pay the debt. Unfortunately, the exchange rate for the coins isn’t ideal, so they decide to do the right thing and return them to the owner. A woman comes forward to reclaim her lost property, which turns Rahim into a local celebrity for his generosity. But after some digging, hidden details start to come up to the surface. Rahim’s story is put under a microscope, with many suspecting there’s more than meets the eye.

Barring his 2018 feature Everybody Knows, Farhadi has concentrated his storytelling on his home country of Iran. He has a fascination with showcasing the modern problems that its citizens often deal with, a monumentally difficult task considering the strict censorship the government puts on its artists. Despite the government initially banning him from making the film, Farhadi was able to explore the modern fallacies of divorce and gender in A Separation. A Hero taps into that same vein as Farhadi spins a web of moral and ethical quandaries so dense that it would give the world’s leading philosophers a headache. 

Often compared to the great Alfred Hitchcock for his knack for suspenseful drama, Farhadi structures his film with a rapid pace, both in terms of setting and plot progression. Taking place entirely throughout Rahim’s two-day parole, the film covers a lot of material in a short amount of time. And this material isn’t clean and dry stuff as much of it contains complicated details and extensive critical thinking without the guarantee of a satisfying answer.

Unlike Hitchcock, Farhadi is quite invisible in his direction. Like the master that he is (which isn’t to say Hitchcock isn’t a master), Farhadi is always present, but never visible. There isn’t anything showy about his work as the story and actors carry the film from beginning to end. His reluctance to overtly showcase his prowess to the audience is a sign of a director confident in his abilities, and the crew that he has assembled. A Hero is still filled with a few directorial flourishes such as a perfectly framed shot here and there, with the final shot rivaling his best visual work.

Where Farhadi flexes his muscles is in the jam-packed script. Like Aaron Sorkin’s work in The Social Network, there are mountains upon mountains of dialogue, all going by in the blink of an eye. 

This is both a blessing and a curse to the film, as it produces a rapidly evolving plot that keeps you guessing, but also overloads itself and spreads its message too thin over too many topics. The ideas of The Good Samaritan and the troubling machinations of the court of public opinion are topics rife with debate that Farhadi is expertly able to dissect, but just not at the same time. 

At the center of the film is Amir Jadidi as Rahim, who, like all Farhadi performers, is a captivating lead. Despite his myriad of problems, Rahim always carries around a dogged smile on his face and a sliver of optimism in his mind. You’re attracted to him as a character because of this and feel betrayed by him once more light is shed on the truth. 

While he may not be working at the absolute height of his power, Asghar Farhadi’s A Hero is still a feature by a master storyteller doing what he does best. There’s a lot to learn and digest, with some of the material being quite rough around the edges. Few filmmakers are as gifted as Farhadi at showing the complicated nature of everyday life.

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