A Hero (CREDIT: Amir Hossein Shojaei)

Starring: Amir Jadidi, Mohsen Tanabandeh, Fereshteh Sadrorafaii, Sahar Goldoust, Maryam Shahdaie, Sarina Farhadi, Saleh Karimai

Director: Asghar Farhadi

Running Time: 127 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Some Minor Fisticuffs

Release Date: January 7, 2022 (Theaters)/January 21, 2022 (Amazon Prime Video)

I’ve lately been realizing that I really enjoy movies and TV shows that work as little morality tales, and I especially have to thank Asghar Farhadi for that. The Iranian filmmaker behind the Oscar-winning A Separation and The Salesman is cinema’s current go-to guy for stories about emotionally wrenching dilemmas. A Hero is just the latest example of his probing pieces in which you’ll likely find your allegiances suddenly shifting, as it is abundantly clear that every character is worthy of our sympathy. Existence leaves so many of us in cruel situations, but they’re made easier if we offer a helping hand, though that can be tricky when that helping hand gets in the way of aiding somebody else.

The titular hero is divorced dad Rahim, played by Amir Jadidi with the right mix of diffidence and determination that makes you wonder, how much of a hero is he really? Should we ever hero worship anyone no matter how much we appreciate what they’ve done? He’s currently in prison because of a debt he’s unable to pay off thanks to an unscrupulous business partner. He’s allowed out for a few days, around the time that his secret fiance discovers a bag filled with money. They want to keep it, as it’s potentially enough cash to pay off his debt, but they ultimately decide to instead find the owner. And when they do, Rahim takes the credit, partly to keep the relationship under wraps. This attracts the attention of journalists and a local charity organization, which just might be able to raise enough for Rahim to pay back the loan and get out of prison.

But not so fast! His creditor Bahram (Mohsen Tanabandeh), who also happens to be his ex-brother-in-law, insists that he’s not willing to forgive the debt if Rahim can’t raise the full amount. And he’s not sure Rahim even deserves any of the money that’s been donated anyway, as he has some doubts about the money bag story. To be fair, it is a little fishy, as Rahim is indeed keeping some details under wraps. And it doesn’t help that the woman with the bag disappears off the face of the Earth after it’s returned to her. (It seems like she’s trying to escape an abusive marriage.)

So Rahim’s path back to freedom won’t be so simple after all. He’s been given a raw deal, although he could certainly help himself out a bit by being less prideful. But you can definitely understand Bahram’s perspective, as well as those of Rahim’s sister and her family, and those of the prison workers, the charity board members, and the woman with the bag.

During Rahim’s stonewalled interactions with Bahram, I couldn’t help but think of the biblical parable of the Prodigal Son. Like the older brother in that story, Bahram is insistent that one’s responsibilities should be taken care of in the proper manner. Bahram’s a sympathetic figure, as it’s clear that Rahim’s past transgressions have seriously hurt his family. But it’s equally clear that he would be better off – and so would everybody – if he instead chose to be more kind. A Hero posits that people are most likely to display kindness when they hear a good story, but that’s not exactly the most encouraging fact of life.

A Hero is Recommended If You Like: Parables, Aesop’s fables, Social dilemmas

Grade: 4 out of 5 Debts