Like so many great cautionary tales about morality, A Hero begins with a bag of money. In this case, it's a bag of coins, which have been discovered by the sister of Rahim (Amir Jadidi) at a bus station. Once Rahim comes home on parole, he considers using the coins to help pay off some suffocating debts that are crushing his life. However, he opts instead to return them to their owner, a choice that leads him to be declared a hero by his local community. However, as the days go on, and Rahim tries to get employment, his newfound image begins to unravel. One little falsehood after another keeps getting revealed in this situation that ensures that Rahim's already difficult life will only be getting harder from here.
Though the premise seems ripe for big grand dramatic events, A Hero takes its storytelling cues from prior Farhadi films in shaping its plot around small incidents that add up over time. To watch Rahim's world gradually crumble is to watch a series of dominos slowly but surely tumble rather than just one explosion going off in a blink-and-you'll-miss-it fashion. The glacial approach to conflict allows viewers a chance to understand how Rahim and his loved ones are responding to each new setback in their lives. It also allows viewers to appreciate and understand how the tiniest details can come back to haunt someone. There's no line of dialogue here that's wasted, everything serves a purpose.
It's also a welcome trait that Farhadi refuses to pigeonhole even aggressive supporting characters as just broad caricatures of villainy. A brother-in-law, whom Rahim owes a significant amount of money, is the primary source of the anti-Rahim sentiment in earlier parts of A Hero. However, his quarrels with this ex-con are not unfounded, there's an understandable weariness to his behavior and dialogue that makes it believable why he'd be so slow to believe this man has undergone a drastic change of heart. By allowing the individuals who populate A Hero to remain fleshed-out people, its grappling with moral quandaries can be all the more interesting.
The nuanced storytelling is told through equally thoughtful filmmaking from Farhadi, whose camera often finds such ingenious ways to use camera placement and blocking to accentuate the inner lives of the principal characters of A Hero. The final shot, especially, is a haunting piece of work contrasting shadows with a small doorway of bright light. No one needs to utter a word of dialogue for the underlying meaning of this moment to bowl you over. That may be the apex of A Hero's visuals, but there are tons of other shots and images throughout the runtime that prove similarly impressive in terms of being as detailed as the central moral quandary.
All of these details culminate in a third act that begins to lean a bit too hard on more obvious moral shadings, including a climactic scene involving Rahim's son (who has a speech impediment) that isn't bad but does feel easier to navigate in terms of "is this good or bad?" compared to the more intricate story that preceded it. Aside from these climactic stumbles, though, A Hero resonates as another powerful and insightful work from Asgar Farhadi, who has a gift for tapping into the complexities that define everyday life. It's impossible to boil down people to "good" or "bad" labels, but it is much easier to boil down movies as well-made as A Hero into the label of "great".
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