A man who is on a two-day furlough from a debtor’s prison is given an opportunity to pay his creditor and be freed from jail. However, he isn’t comfortable with the means this money came about and desires to see it returned to its rightful owner. What he does not foresee is the amount of heartache and trouble a single kind act will bring.
There are a few movies that left me feeling split after having watched them. I am sad to say that A Hero is one of them. This movie is from Iran and does deal heavily with the Iranian culture, especially with the idea that debtor’s prisons exist, but what distresses me most is the moral ambiguity that is present throughout almost its entire 2 hours and 7 minutes. There is Rahim who was unable to pay his creditor after initially borrowing money from a loan shark. While he is out on a two-day leave he is greeted by his girlfriend who has found a bag filled with 17 gold coins. She wants to use this to pay part of his debt, but he gets uncomfortable with the idea and goes on a mission for the remainder of his leave to find the owner. Initially, he is praised for his good deed. But when the media gets involved he tells the wardens of the prison that he doesn’t wish to involve his girlfriend. From there he is told to lie. He does so and everything starts to spiral out of control. His creditor, who was previously related to him through Rahim’s ex-wife, uses social media to call Rahim’s character into question. Investigations start to take place and even more people start to lie, not to help Rahim but instead to save their reputations, all while condemning Rahim for not having been completely honest in the first place. Even when an opportunity to save face is presented to Rahim (compliments of another lie) he refuses it, but one of the wardens chooses not to agree and instead wants to exploit Rahim’s son, who suffers from a terrible speech disorder. Everywhere Rahim turns he wants to try to do the right thing but instead sees his reputation being destroyed. He’s accused by his creditor of being a compulsive liar, but everyone around Rahim is doing all of the lying.
A Hero was beautifully made and the cast was wonderful, especially Amir Jadidi as Rahim and Salch Karimai as Rahim’s son Siavash as they are both brilliant in their performances. Jadidi shows Rahim as almost tortured in trying to do the right thing, yet nothing turns out the right way for him. He also shows Rahim’s incredible love for his only son and that he would do anything for him. Karimai, as Siavash, shows amazing vulnerability as this young boy who cannot speak properly and at the same time loves his father and doesn’t want to see him back in jail.
I am torn regarding the intent of this movie. I am not fond of movies that make a point of painting any society in the worst possible light. Sadly, that is what writer/director Asghar Farhadi is doing here. However, if the intent is to shine a light on a form of corruption and hypocrisy that does indeed exist in the government and culture of Iran, then it would seem to me that this movie would have to be viewed as a success. As the story progressed it was clear that everything was spiraling out of control for Rahim. At one point he states that it’s no longer about the money. He just doesn’t want to have his name and his family’s name ruined because of social media. His only real sin is one of pride when he expresses that it was his wish to personally return the missing gold to its owner. Aside from that, his motives are entirely altruistic. All of his misdeeds that follow are done because he is told to do them, even by people and organizations that are also trying to do good. After having watched it, while I appreciate the fact that Farhadi is trying to present a very unusual morality play, I don’t believe it entirely succeeds. While this movie is aimed at an adult audience for its serious content, it still delivers some mixed messages that could confuse younger audiences (This is a foreign film with subtitles so the odds of many young people watching A Hero is highly remote.). On the one hand, there is Rahim who tries to do one unselfish act and ends up with more problems than anyone should have to deal with. There is the unselfish act itself in returning 17 gold coins while on his two-day leave from jail. Here is this one noble message, but it is diluted with his reputation being destroyed, suggesting the adage that “no good deed goes unpunished.” Then there are the organizations that figure into Rahim’s life. There is the jail (which is already facing a scandal due to another prisoner committing suicide) and a charitable council that at first rewarded Rahim for his good deed, only to later condemn him for not having been entirely truthful (again, at the behest of his jailkeepers). They’re prepared to lie to save face so that they can continue to help others who are in need, suggesting that “the ends always justify the means.” While I applaud Farhadi for his bold approach at trying to shine a light on people who get media recognition for performing a singular good deed while other continually good people are practically never recognized, and pointing out the type of corruption that is present, as well as trying to paint a story with characters who are neither true heroes nor true villains, I feel that these messages are at best diluted, or at worst completely lost.
Instead of trying to tell a strong morality play, all we end up with is a movie filled with moral ambiguity.
I give A Hero only 3 out of 5 Gold Coins.
Rahim is in prison because of a debt he was unable to repay. During a two-day leave, he tries to convince his creditor to withdraw his complaint against the payment of part of the sum. But things don’t go as planned…
A HERO opens exclusively in theaters on Friday, January 7, 2022, and streams on Amazon Prime Video January 21, 2022.