After his rather overstuffed and undercooked excursion to Spain for 2018’s Everybody Knows, Asghar Farhadi returns home to Iran and to more familiar ground in general with A Hero, a circular morality play where the tense middle ground between truth and lies becomes a minefield for the hapless characters caught in its midst. It’s the kind of story that Farhadi could tell while asleep, and it does on occasion feel like that might have actually occurred, with repetitive scenes looping into one another for an overstretched two-hour-plus runtime.
At the heart of A Hero is the Mr Micawber-esque Rahim Soltani (Amir Jadidi), a man stuck in debtors’ prison with an almost-constant guileless smile. Out on a two-day period of leave from the jail, he meets with his girlfriend Farkhondeh (Sahar Goldust), who has found a lost handbag containing enough gold coins to pay off half of his debt. When the creditor Bahram (Mohsen Tanabandeh) turns this offer down – he’d rather be paid in full – Rahim decides to put up posters advertising the lost bag, eventually returning it to its rightful owner.
This act of charity – from a imprisoned debtor no less – starts to attract public attention and the authorities at Rahim’s prison, themselves trying to salvage their reputation after a recent suicide, use every resource at their disposal to publicise the good deed and maybe win Rahim some money and his freedom. But there are a couple of elements of Rahim’s story that don’t add up, and it’s not long before he and his family are resorting to lies to prove the central truth of the returned money, putting everything at jeopardy.
There are some potent moments of tragedy here, especially when Rahim’s son – who suffers from a stutter – gets involved, but the story’s structure of one step forward, one step back eventually gets dull, nothing really meaningfully changing for anyone involved. Of course, this is largely the point of a story about spiteful incarceration, but that doesn’t make it any less frustrating a watch. Not a single character in the movie knows when to simply shut up, and though this is realistic for people in crisis, it ends up playing almost as abrasively as something like Uncut Gems without any of the redeeming laughs or stylistic ingenuity.
The matter-of-fact presentation and almost entire absence of score just compounds the boredom, and you may find yourself clock-watching when there’s still quite a chunk of A Hero to go. It’s never really a badly-made film – Farhadi is probably genuinely incapable of that crime – but there’s nothing to truly grip you, nor much to remember long after the credits roll.