A Hero Review: No Good Deed Goes Unpunished In The Complex New Film From Asghar Farhadi

Rahim seems to always have a smile on his face. Wherever he goes, he greets people warmly, and they react the same. We like him almost immediately, and we feel sorry for him when we learn he's in prison. Heavy debts have landed him there, and as he explains to seemingly anyone who might listen, it's not really his fault that he's in debt: He and a business partner borrowed money and the partner ran off with it all, leaving Rahim to suffer the consequences. 

When we first meet Rahim, he's out of prison for a two-day leave, an occurrence that enables him to reconnect with his family, including his girlfriend Farkhonde (Sahar Goldust) and his son (Saleh Karimai). He speaks longingly about finally getting out of prison for good, but he can't do that until his debts are paid — and it seems like it would take a miracle to come up with the money. But during his two-day leave, a potential miracle presents itself: Farkhonde discovers a purse full of gold coins, and immediately sees a chance for Rahim to finally be free. 

Rahim seems amenable to the idea, too, and even gets the coins appraised. But then he does a curious thing: He decides to return the gold to its rightful owner. It's a selfless deed, especially for someone who badly needs money, but it seems like the right thing to do. And that's when the real problems begin. In Asghar Farhadi's fascinating, complex "A Hero," nothing is simple. And no good deed goes unpunished — if it was even a "good deed" to begin with.

A Complex Situation

People finding lost money often leads to terrible things in movies — think of the drug money Josh Brolin stumbles across in "No Country For Old Men" as just one of many examples. And sure enough, the gold Rahim finds leads towards a series of unfortunate events, but not in the way you might think. Rahim's decision to return the gold becomes a media sensation, one that's egged on by the oddly polite and helpful jailers who run the prison. They think it will both look good for Rahim and look good for the prison, and so the story is leaked to the press. Soon, Rahim is on TV talking about his selfless act. Word spreads like wildfire and support for releasing Rahim from prison grows. 

But not everyone thinks of Rahim as a hero. Bahram (Mohsen Tanabandeh) is the brother of Rahim's ex-wife, and, as it turns out, the person to whom Rahim is indebted. He holds the power to decide how much longer Rahim will stay imprisoned. If Bahram were to, say, forgive the debt, Rahim would be free. But Bahram isn't so easily swayed. He thinks the whole "found gold" story is an act — and even if it isn't, he bristles at the idea of simply forgetting about the money he's owed. 

Farhadi takes his time laying the groundwork here, and "A Hero" unfolds in a manner that has the viewer constantly reappraising the situation. There's a cheesy, awful Hollywood-ized version of this story where all the good guys are good and the bad guys are bad, where we're rooting for Rahim's freedom and booing Bahram every time he appears on screen. But that's not the case here. Instead, the more we learn about the situation, the more difficult it becomes to pick sides. Rahim seems like a genuinely good guy and Bahram seems like a total jerk at first blush, but as the story unfolds, it becomes clear that things aren't so black and white. 

A Revelation

As Rahim, Amir Jadidi is nothing short of remarkable. It's an incredibly difficult role, with nearly every action in the film springing forth from the character's decisions. Jadidi makes us like Rahim from the jump, and then has us re-evaluating him in the blink of an eye. It's not that Rahim is a bad guy, either. Really, there are no "bad guys" here. Just people who build themselves their own personal labyrinthine traps. Rahim makes decisions that, in retrospect, turn out to be detrimental. But we can also understand why he's making these decisions, and can even sympathize with them when we don't agree. 

The same goes for Bahram. When he begins poking holes in Rahim's story and pointing out that Rahim is fond of trotting out his son, who has a stutter, to garner sympathy, there's plenty of logic in his words. The fact that Farhadi never takes sides makes "A Hero" all the more remarkable. It can even be disorienting at times. I've grown so accustomed to the cookie-cutter approach of Hollywood movies that I found myself almost constantly knocked off balance by "A Hero." Just when I thought I had a handle on where this was all going, Farhadi would introduce some new wrinkle that completely recontextualized everything that came before. 

And gosh, how nice it is to be so unprepared. It can be very easy to become jaded in this line of work, where I watch many, many movies and feel confident I can predict where they're headed. When something like "A Hero" comes along and knocks me off my axis, it's thrilling. It's almost like a revelation; a feeling that I never expected to feel again. This is the type of feeling one chases after when watching many, many movies. It's proof there are still films out there that don't rely solely on familiar IP or CGI-enhanced superheroes. 


"A Hero" starts off rather calm and subdued, but the more the story unfolds, and the more trouble Rahim finds himself in, the more the tension mounts. At times it's like watching a car wreck — we're removed from the action, unable to affect it, disturbed but also unable to look away. When Rahim begins plotting schemes that could backfire terribly, and when those around him start coming up with their own plans to benefit themselves, it's almost excruciating. We want to yell "No!" at the screen, but we know that won't matter: Rahim can't hear us. And even if he could, we get the sense he'd still make a decision that would blow up in his face anyway. It may seem like a good idea when he comes up with it, but when the final result arrives, it's harrowing. 

That's all part of the brilliance of "A Hero." Writer-director Asghar Farhadi has crafted an intricate story, one filled with many threads that appear to be hanging loosely. But if we start pulling at those threads, we'd find they would all twist and tangle together, resulting in something far more complex. That complexity could have overwhelmed us if we saw it coming right away, but the way Farhadi gently eases us into the anxieties to come makes "A Hero" all the more spellbinding. 

/Film Rating: 9 out of 10