Rahim (Iranian actor and tennis player Amir Jadidi) is imprisoned because of a debt he was unable to repay. While on furlough, his bank advises him his gold coins are no longer worth what they once were, thanks to market fluctuations. At a busy city bus stop, Rahim places the coins in a seemingly abandoned woman’s purse, then takes the purse and pursues a reward for its return.
Rahim then becomes a local hero when he reunites the purse with its rightful owner. You see, Rahim is not a bad guy. He has a winning personality, a supportive sister and brother-in-law, a fiancée who obviously loves him, and a son with a severe stutter, who struggles in school. And he’s certainly no hardened criminal; he’s the kind of guy who probably shouldn’t be taking up prison space – even in Iran. And although his “return the purse” deed isn’t entirely trustworthy, the story is heartwarming.
The television exposure Rahim receives for his good deed is exactly what he needs to relieve him of the remainder of his sentence. Consider the story line: Prisoner on two-day leave returns purse filled with gold coins to rightful owner. This is the setup for Asghar Farhadi’s new film, “A Hero.” But, as with all Farhadi’s work, all is not as it seems.
Following his television exposure, Rahim makes what turns out to be the fatal mistake of taking his story to the local newspaper. But the editor needs others to corroborate Rahim’s story. Unable to locate the woman whose purse Rahim “found,” he brings in others present that day, including his sister, and the taxi driver who brought the woman to the sister’s house to retrieve the missing purse. We learn the taxi driver was himself imprisoned for a minor nonviolent offense some years prior. Rahim’s fiancée plays the part of the purse owner, who refuses to provide her name or address, as her husband supposedly doesn’t know she possesses gold coins.
Rahim’s story seems watertight. Until it isn’t. Social media posts begin exposing holes in Rahim’s account. Eventually, his creditor demands the rest of his money. The newspaper editor casts doubt on Rahim’s entire account of his good deed. And then Farhadi’s original screenplay becomes very interesting. Much as in John Boorman’s 1972 classic “Deliverance,” the most involving portion of the narrative occurs after the pivotal scene – the heroic return of the purse, in this case.
Iranian director and screenwriter Farhadi has given us some of the best (and most criminally underseen) films of the past few years. 2016’s “The Salesman” was about a young husband’s attempt to solve the mystery of his wife’s attacker. Both the husband and wife were in the process of performing a local theatre production of Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman” at the time. That year, “The Salesman” won the Best Foreign Language Oscar.
Two years later, Farhadi’s Spanish-language “Everybody Knows” opened the Cannes Film Festival. Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem starred in a story about a teenage girl who mysteriously disappears during a wedding reception. The kidnappers forbid her family from informing the police. Cruz has never been better than in this taut thriller.
“A Hero” follows a similar pattern – a story in which the media and public opinion serve as enemies to the protagonists. And Jadidi is perfectly cast as Rahim – an affable young father with a winning smile and a warm, inviting personality. He’s the perfect guy to fill the “local hero” role. Again, until he isn’t.
“A Hero” is the kind of film viewers will discuss for hours after the credits roll. It almost invites multiple viewings. In a year of only a few standout feature films, “A Hero” ranks as one of the best.