Rahim is a handsome and charming fellow who seems to have the best of intentions, but he’s always hanging his head like a little boy who has been caught misbehaving, and he’s frequently bending the truth this way and that to fit his narrative.
He’s a bit of a con man even if he’d never categorize himself in that manner, and yet throughout the Iranian writer-director Asghar Farhadi’s smoothly polished gem titled “A Hero,” we’re mostly rooting for Rahim even when we want to urge him to just TELL THE TRUTH and let the chips fall where they may.
Amir Jadidi delivers a beautifully nuanced performance in “A Hero” as the aforementioned Rahim, who is serving time prison time for an unpaid debt to his creditor, Bahram (Mohsen Tanabandeh), who comes across as a cross between Ebenezer Scrooge and Mr. Potter as he refuses to cut Rahim any slack and insists Rahim pay the full amount before he’ll agree to the commutation of Rahim’s sentence. Ah, but Rahim is granted brief leaves from time to time, and on one such occasion, he meets up with his girlfriend, Farkhondeh (Sahar Goldoust), who has recently found a handbag containing 17 gold coins. When the couple learns the price of gold has plummeted and the coins would cover only about half of the 150,000 tomans owed by Rahim, they concoct a plan: Rahim will post fliers seeking the owner of the handbag, putting him in the position of becoming a potential hero in the eyes of the people.
It works! Sort of. A woman shows up in tears to claim the gold, and Rahim’s story is told on TV and in the newspapers and on social media. He explains he needed the money to pay off his prison debt but he had to do the right thing — and that motivates a local charity to raise money to erase Rahim’s debt.
With writer-director Farhadi (whose “A Separation” won Oscar for best foreign language film of 2011) employing a docudrama style to capture the ebb and flow of working-class life in the city of Shiraz, where family and honor are everything, “A Hero” takes one unexpected turn after another. Bahram points out, with justification, that Rahim only did what any honest and decent person should do and shouldn’t be elevated to hero status for it. (We also learn more about Bahram’s back story and why he’s so resentful of Rahim, and we come to understand his bitterness.)
Meanwhile, a bureaucrat charged with approving Rahim’s employment begins to question the veracity of Rahim’s story about finding the gold coins, which becomes even more suspect when it appears the woman who showed up to claim the coins was pulling a fast one and has disappeared. Farkondeh’s attempt to pose as the woman backfires as public sentiment turns against Rahim. Even when Rahim is telling the truth, there’s a “boy who cried wolf” element to his stories. He really and truly does want to pay off his debt and restore honor to his family’s name but keeps on stepping in messes that are primarily of his own making.
“A Hero” runs a bit long at 127 minutes and is at times frustratingly ambiguous, but Farhadi has delivered another insightful slice of life and Amir Jadidi turns in a remarkably intriguing performance as the never quite heroic Rahim.