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A seemingly good deed goes awry in Asghar Farhadi's gripping moral drama 'A Hero'

Justin Chang

movie reviews a hero

Rahim (Amir Jadidi) tries to reconnect with his son (Saleh Karimai) in A Hero. Amir Hossein Shojaei/Amazon Studios hide caption

Rahim (Amir Jadidi) tries to reconnect with his son (Saleh Karimai) in A Hero.

In Jean Renoir 's 1939 masterpiece, The Rules of the Game , a character famously observes, "The awful thing about life is this: Everyone has their reasons."

Few contemporary filmmakers have taken Renoir's words more to heart than Asghar Farhadi , who tells rigorous but compassionate stories in which people's motives are always more complicated than they appear. That's very much the case in Farhadi's new movie, A Hero , a gripping moral drama about what happens when a seemingly good deed goes unexpectedly awry.

It takes place in the Iranian city of Shiraz, where an unlucky man named Rahim, played by Amir Jadidi, is serving three years in debtors' prison. At the start of the movie, Rahim is released on two days' leave and returns home to spend time with his family, including his young son from a past marriage. Rahim also has a girlfriend who recently found a handbag in the street containing 17 gold coins, which they try to sell in hopes of paying off Rahim's creditor, the one who's keeping him behind bars.

But when they find that the coins aren't valuable enough to cover his debts, the wily Rahim comes up with a scheme to rehabilitate his image. He puts up fliers around town trying to track down the bag's owner, and sure enough, a woman soon comes forward and claims the coins as her own. Through some deft calculations on his part, Rahim ensures that his Good Samaritan act becomes widely known, and his story makes headlines on the news and on social media. A charity begins raising money on his behalf. Even the prison, where he returns once his leave has ended, is grateful for the positive attention.

Farhadi surveys this media circus with a skeptical eye, and you know that it's only a matter of time before the other shoe drops. Not everyone buys Rahim's story — certainly not his creditor and former brother-in-law, Bahram, who lost a lot of money on one of Rahim's failed business ventures and doesn't trust him at all.

A simpler movie might have villainized Bahram for not being more forgiving, but Farhadi treats him fairly and sympathetically. It's Bahram who asks the story's most pointed question: Why do we applaud people for doing the right thing, rather than simply expecting them to do it?

Before long, other people start questioning exaggerations and inconsistencies in Rahim's story. The woman who claimed the bag suddenly vanishes, and people wonder if she really existed. Even when facing adversity, Rahim tends to fall back on a charming, eager-to-please smile, but Jadidi's superb performance — the anchor of an all-around terrific ensemble cast — subtly reveals the character's mounting desperation as his plan falls spectacularly apart.

A Hero is Farhadi's strongest movie since A Separation , and like that 2011 triumph, it begins by delivering the narrative pleasures of a great detective story and winds up feeling like an X-ray of Iranian society.

Farhadi isn't as confrontational a filmmaker as some of his peers, like Jafar Panâhi and Mohammad Rasoulof , who have been persecuted by the Iranian government for their work. But the social critique is there. Farhadi reveals the injustices of the country's prison system, and he's attentive as always to gender inequality. More than once in this movie, men make rash decisions and women end up paying the price. Farhadi also lays bare the workings of a moralistic society where virtue, or the perception of virtue, is the true coin of the realm. And he shows us how institutions — even well-meaning ones, like the charity that helps Rahim — exploit people's inspirational stories.

There's nothing inspirational about A Hero , whose title begs to be read ironically. But if Farhadi is a pessimist about human nature, he isn't a cynic, and he doesn't discount the possibility of real, hard-won heroism. Some of the film's most moving scenes show Rahim trying to reconnect with his son and shield him from the consequences of shame and scandal — and doing it far away from the media spotlight. The truest acts of decency, Farhadi reminds us, are rarely performed in front of a camera — except, perhaps, a movie camera as perceptive as his.


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By A.O. Scott

“The last temptation is the greatest treason: to do the right deed for the wrong reason.” “A Hero,” the new film by the Iranian writer-director Asghar Farhadi, seems to circle around these lines from T.S. Eliot’s “Murder in the Cathedral,” spinning Eliot’s observation about morality into a squall of questions about ethics and motives.

At the center of the movie is what looks like an unambiguous act of decency. A man — the title character, a sign painter named Rahim Soltani (Amir Jadidi) — arranges for the return of 17 gold coins to their rightful owner. What could be wrong with that? What could go wrong as a consequence?

Quite a lot, as it happens. Nothing in this stressful, intricately plotted fable of modern life is as simple as we or the characters might wish. Rahim, who has been imprisoned because of a debt, wants to clear the books and restart his life. We meet him at the beginning of a hectic two-day furlough, as he bounces from one encounter to another, hoping to secure his freedom by settling with his creditor, Bahram (Mohsen Tanabandeh), a print-shop owner who is the brother-in-law of Rahim’s former wife.

The entwining of family ties and business relations is a central fact of Iranian life as Farhadi understands it. When love, honor and loyalty are at issue, money is never far away. To paraphrase Homer Simpson on the subject of alcohol, it’s the cause of and the solution to most of life’s problems.

Rahim’s ex, who remains unseen, is preparing to remarry, and Rahim hopes to do the same. Their son, Siavash (Saleh Karimai), who has a severe speech impediment, lives with Rahim’s sister Malileh (Maryam Shahdaie) and her husband, Hossein (Ali Reza Jahandideh), who are Rahim’s main allies. His girlfriend, Farkhondeh (Sahar Goldoust), is the one who found the gold coins, and the couple’s initial plan is to sell them to pay off enough of the debt to satisfy Bahram.

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Review: ‘A Hero,’ Iran’s Oscar entry, is another gripping moral tale from Asghar Farhadi

A man and a boy cross a street in the movie "A Hero"

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The Times is committed to reviewing theatrical film releases during the COVID-19 pandemic . Because moviegoing carries risks during this time, we remind readers to follow health and safety guidelines as outlined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and local health officials .

The title of “A Hero,” Asghar Farhadi’s characteristically complex, humane and absorbing new movie, at first cries out to be read ironically.

Farhadi, the Iranian writer and director of art-house favorites like “A Separation” and “The Salesman,” has little use for saintly protagonists, and his ninth feature — garlanded at last year’s Cannes Film Festival and recently shortlisted for the Oscar for international feature — is no exception. It unfolds over several eventful days in the life of Rahim Soltani (Amir Jadidi), a failed entrepreneur who’s serving three years in debtors’ prison, and who is no one’s idea of a hero. Until, that is, he performs a good deed that goes viral, nabbing his 15 minutes of fame from a jaded society eager for even faint glimmers of hope for humanity.

A rigorous pessimist who nonetheless avoids the trap of easy cynicism, Farhadi understands and, up to a point, satisfies the public’s need for everyday uplift. “Human-interest stories” may be a reductive term for his particular mode of character-rich, milieu-specific filmmaking, but it is not an entirely inaccurate one. Certainly, Rahim is nothing if not interesting. When he steps into the sunshine for two days’ prison leave, a good-natured smile plays over his handsome face, a smile that persists even when he chases after a departing bus. You sense that Rahim has missed more than a few opportunities. You also sense that his charming smile, which he slips into with almost maddening reflexiveness, earned him a lot of them to begin with.

Another such opportunity has already presented itself as the story opens. Farkhondeh (Sahar Goldoust), the woman Rahim has been seeing, recently discovered a lost purse containing 17 gold coins — a godsend for someone in his dire straits. But when it becomes clear that the value of the coins won’t cover his many debts, Rahim hits on another scheme.

While out on leave in his home city of Shiraz, he puts up fliers trying to locate the purse’s owner — and sure enough, a woman comes forward, claiming the bag and the gold as hers. But the true prize becomes clear when Rahim’s act of kindness — a sacrificial gesture from a man who’s already lost so much — makes national headlines, and he and his family become the toast of their community virtually overnight. A charity raises enormous sums on his behalf. Even the friendly prison staff wind up basking in the glow of their celebrity inmate.

Amir Jadidi in the movie "A Hero."

And just as swiftly — but also intricately and methodically — it all comes crashing to the ground. As he drifts in and out of prison, Rahim sees his hard-won reserves of goodwill suddenly depleted, undone by community gossip and online backlash. (“A Hero” is essentially Farhadi’s version of a “milkshake duck” narrative, a story of how social-media fame can giveth and taketh away, though the internet remains a background presence rather than a front-and-center dramatic device.)

Before long, a time-old debate reasserts itself: Does altruism really exist? No good deed may go unpunished, but how good was Rahim’s deed to begin with, having been engineered for maximum attention? At the same time, who could blame him for exploiting the moralistic codes that govern so much of his daily life, and for trying to acquire a dose of respect in a society where virtue is the true coin of the realm?

One of Farhadi’s shrewder insights here is that institutions, perhaps even more than individuals, have a real stake in turning inspirational stories to their financial and reputational advantage. He has always been good at revealing interlocking chains of complicity — at using, say, a couple’s looming divorce in “A Separation” to confront tough, intractable issues of class, money, religion and gender in present-day Tehran. While it’s more studied than that earlier film and doesn’t achieve the same gut impact, “A Hero” undertakes a similar process of social illumination.

Rahim’s fortunes rise and fall with the pace of a thriller and the scope of a tragedy, but in a Farhadi film, every protagonist is caught up in a larger, sadder story. That story comes into focus early and often, swept into view by the expansive widescreen frames of Ali Ghazi and Arash Ramezani’s cinematography and the agile rhythms of Hayedeh Safiyari’s editing.

Seemingly minor characters are accorded significant dramatic weight, and many of them are played by actors whose names you may not know, but whose faces you will have a hard time forgetting. Fereshteh Sadrorafaii plays the stern but not unreasonable director of the charity that rides the tide of Rahim’s good deed — and comes under fire when his story begins to fall apart. Ehsan Goodarzi plays a council officer tasked with investigating Rahim’s story, and his calm, dogged skepticism is so penetrating — and so emblematic of a state that distrusts everyone by default — that you may find yourself rooting for Rahim to get away with it.

Sahar Goldoust and Amir Jadidi in the movie "A Hero."

The ability to pull off that kind of moral reversal, to draw you into an almost Hitchcockian complicity with characters at their lowest ebb, is one of Farhadi’s signature strengths as a storyteller. But he also earns your sympathy for the crucial figure of Bahram (an excellent Mohsen Tanabandeh), Rahim’s unyielding, unforgiving creditor and his own personal Javert. The bad blood between them has an ugly, complicated history, involving family entanglements and failed business ventures, that the movie takes its time untangling. But it’s precisely that history that allows Bahram to see through Rahim’s deception with a stubborn clarity that eludes everyone else, and it’s he who articulates the movie’s most pointed ideas.

“Where in the world are people celebrated for not doing wrong?” Bahram asks in one heated confrontation. It’s one of many questions swirling around the taut but elastic drama of “A Hero,” some version of which you could imagine playing out in any number of different countries and eras. But any successful retelling would have to find its own equivalents of Farhadi’s penetrating cultural insights.

Among other things, he reveals the everyday injustices of a prison system that turns citizens into each other’s captors and captives. He’s attuned to the ways in which emotional and logistical burdens fall disproportionately on women, including Farkhondeh and Rahim’s sister (Maryam Shahdaie), both loving and loyal to him to a fault. And not for the first time, Farhadi proves acutely sensitive to the ways in which children — in this case, Siavash (Saleh Karimai), Rahim’s young son from a prior marriage — end up paying a cruel price for their parents’ mistakes.

Siavash speaks with a stutter, making him an object of easy pity when Rahim’s image-rehab campaign kicks into gear. And even as Farhadi critiques Rahim for exploiting his son’s impediment, he takes pains not to fall into the same trap. But he also understands how children can, at certain moments, show us our better selves, can spur us to do the right thing — and, crucially, for the right reasons. It’s telling that Rahim’s most quietly heroic gesture takes place in secret, far from the eyes of onlookers or the lens of a news camera. Perhaps the title isn’t so ironic after all.

In Persian with English subtitles Rated: PG-13, for some thematic elements and language Running time: 2 hours, 7 minutes Playing: Starts Jan. 7, Laemmle Playhouse 7, Pasadena; Laemmle Royal, West Los Angeles; Laemmle Town Center 5, Encino; Regency Theatres, Santa Ana; Regency Theatre, Westlake Village; Regency Theatres Directors Cut Cinema, Laguna Niguel

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Justin Chang was a film critic for the Los Angeles Times from 2016 to 2024. He won the 2024 Pulitzer Prize in criticism for work published in 2023. Chang is the author of the book “FilmCraft: Editing” and serves as chair of the National Society of Film Critics and secretary of the Los Angeles Film Critics Assn.

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‘a hero’ (‘ghahreman’): film review | cannes 2021.

Oscar-winning filmmaker Asghar Farhadi returns to his native Iran with this story about truth-telling, honor and the price of freedom.

By Deborah Young

Deborah Young

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'A Hero'

Perhaps owing to his work in theater, writer-director Asghar Farhadi seems able to find drama in the most surprising places. After his Spanish-set Everybody Knows with stars Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem and a string of short movies, he makes a welcome return to his native Iran with A Hero ( Ghahreman ), a very fine film about honesty, honor and the price of freedom.

The Iranian-French coprod is a small film in format, pointing it to art house fans who can pick over the director’s typical themes amid subtle symbolism and refined technical work. Its reception at Cannes , where it’s competing, should indicate how far a local film like this can go internationally.

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Venue: Cannes Film Festival (Competition) Cast: Amir Jadidi, Mohsen Tanabandeh, Fereshteh Sadre Orafaiy, Sahar Goldust Director, screenwriter: Asghar Farhadi

Prisons are one of the key locations in contemporary Iranian cinema, both as overcrowded places of punishment and, naturally, of metaphoric confinement within a tough society. In A Hero , the prison is an open-door cage well-serviced by buses, where the working-class hero pops in and out, as his fortunes ebb and flow. It is through this door that the unemployed Rahim (Amir Jadidi) chooses his own fate. A far cry from the director’s middle-class drama A Separation , the first Iranian film to win the Academy Award for best foreign language film, A Hero returns Farhadi to the basics of national storytelling in an increasingly complex tale of half-truths and lies that eat away at all those who traffic in them, which is to say, everybody.

The setting is Shiraz and the first scene, in which we meet the honest but naïve protagonist, takes place on a sheer cliff face containing the royal tombs of Persepolis, where the kings of the Achaemenid Empire are at rest. Rahim, who has just been released from prison on a two-day leave, climbs up an excruciatingly high scaffolding strung with ropes; it seems in every way a place of death. In this symbolic landscape, he meets his friendly brother-in-law (Alireza Jahandideh) and together they discuss ways for him to repay the old debt that sent him to jail three years ago.

His creditor is another brother-in-law, Bahram (Mohsen Tanabandeh), a shopkeeper who embodies malice and pettiness. He has it in for young Rahim, who was formerly married to his sister, and does everything in his power to destroy his reputation and keep him in prison. On Rahim’s side is his own sister, his son and the new love in his life, Farkhondeh (played as a strong modern woman by Sahar Goldust), whom he hopes to marry as soon as he can pay off his debt and get back to work.

Farhadi’s screenplay thrusts the viewer into the middle of a murky story about a lost handbag. A woman waits to board a bus with a handbag containing 17 gold coins; but before reaching the next stop, she realizes the bag is gone. What we see is Farkhondeh light-heartedly giving the gold coins to Rahim. Together they try to sell them to a dealer, but the price is too low. It will not be enough to pay even half of the 150,000 tomans he owes Bahram for a business that went bust. With all doors closed to him and his conscience pricking, Rahim advertises for the owner of the bag and returns it to a poor woman who weeps with joy to get it back.

Next act. Word of his good deed gets around and the image-conscious prison authorities send over a TV crew to interview him. Jadidi is at his best showing Rahim’s naïve pleasure in being singled out as a hero, after a lifetime of being treated like a worm. Best of all, he becomes a hero in the eyes of his son, a serious boy with a speech disorder who seems old beyond his years.

But the publication of Rahim’s story in the newspaper and its airing on regional TV also excites jealousy, in no one more than the dark-hearted Bahram, who doubles down on being obnoxious and unfair and refuses to renegotiate Rahim’s debt.

At this point Farhadi’s web is woven and all he has to do is to pull the strings to tighten it around the hapless hero. People begin to cast doubt on his story and motivations. Cracks appear in the account, and Rahim is forced to update his version continually. When a charitable organization collects money to get him out of prison and find him a job, things really go wrong.

Interestingly for an Iranian film, the power of social media plays a huge role in the hero’s unraveling, and several plot points turn on whether or not certain facts will be posted and made public. Perhaps the film’s most moving scene shows a prison warden feeding lines of not-completely-true testimony to Rahim’s little boy, who bravely struggles to get through a few sentences being recorded on camera to improve his father’s image.

The film’s simple, lower-class setting is met with equally direct camerawork, lighting and editing. This feels like the farthest Farhadi has come from his stage work and the sometimes unconvincing dramatic elements that occasionally creep into his films (the sexual assault that comes out of the blue in The Salesman , for example). Here, instead, everything seems so probable that events have an archetypal quality — the bureaucrat who won’t accept Rahim’s job application even though it’s all been arranged, the charity queen who gets on her high horse over nothing, everybody’s stubborn insistence on being respected, when they show no respect for others. And the never-ending, instinctual chain of lies that enslaves the characters and gives the film its larger dimension.

Full credits

Venue: Cannes Film Festival (Competition) Production companies: Asghar Farhadi Productions, Memento Films Intl. Cast: Amir Jadidi, Mohsen Tanabandeh, Sahar Goldust, Fereshteh Sadre Orafaiy, Sarina Farhadi, Ehsan Goodarzi, Alireza Jahandideh, Maryam Shahdaei Director, screenwriter: Asghar Farhadi Producers: Asghar Farhadi, Alexandre Mallet-Guy Coproducers: Olivier Pere, Remi Burah Directors of photography: Ali Ghazi, Arash Ramezani Production designer: Mehdi Mousavi Costume designer: Negar Nemati Editor: Hayedeh Safiyari World sales: Memento International

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A Hero Is Both Moral Fable and Mousetrap

Portrait of Bilge Ebiri

Asghar Farhadi’s A Hero is a drama that plays like a thriller. It’s the gripping, often infuriating tale of a beleaguered Good Samaritan who learns that no good deed goes unpunished in the digital age. And as further demonstration of the director’s already impressive ability to build stomach-gnawing suspense out of everyday interactions, the movie is well worth seeing. But it also represents a step back in some ways. Farhadi is one of the world’s great filmmakers, but the generosity of spirit that was so pivotal to his earlier work seems to be in retreat in his latest.

A Hero ’s story is set in motion when Rahim (Amir Jadidi), an inmate at a debtor’s prison on a two-day leave, decides to return a lost handbag full of 17 gold coins found by his girlfriend, Farkhondeh (Sahar Goldust). The gold could have gone some way toward repaying Rahim’s standing debt to Bahram (Mohsen Tanabandeh), a copy shop owner and the brother-in-law of Rahim’s ex-wife; under Iranian law, Rahim can be freed when he pays off the debt or if Bahram agrees to forgive it. Rahim and Farkhondeh do initially try to cash in the coins. But Rahim has second thoughts, so he decides to do the right thing and puts up signs asking the unknown owner of the lost handbag to call him at the prison.

When the prison authorities catch wind of this act of good citizenship, however, they concoct a plan to present Rahim to the public as a kind of hero. (They need the good publicity, in the wake of another inmate’s recent suicide.) Rahim’s selflessness does turn him into something of an overnight celebrity, and freedom looks to be right around the corner when a charity that raises funds to help free prisoners gets involved. There’s one big roadblock, however: The intransigent, glowering Bahram still distrusts Rahim and refuses to forgive any share of the debt. Without giving too much more away, let’s just say that our hero’s increasingly desperate attempts to buy his freedom complicate things further, all exacerbated by his newfound fame and a spotlight that insists on interpreting his actions as either totally pure or totally base.

Played by the likable Jadidi with a cautious smile and hangdog uncertainty, Rahim is a man thoroughly out of step with the world, increasingly at the mercy of the fragility of public opinion, which can adore you after a TV appearance, then turn on you with one short video uploaded to the internet. Everyone around him is consumed by technology, from smartphones to surveillance cameras to TV shows; Rahim doesn’t even have a cell phone, as they’re not allowed in prison. (We also learn that the reason for his debt was the failure of his sign-painting business, which collapsed when computers rendered his services irrelevant.) After getting out of prison at the start of the picture, the first place Rahim goes is to the massive Tomb of Xerxes, a nearly 2,500-year-old catacomb carved into the side of a mountain, to see his brother-in-law Hossein (Alireza Jahandideh), who works there. It’s an incredibly striking location — frankly every movie should start at the Tomb of Xerxes — but also perhaps a visual clue that Rahim himself is a figure out of time.

Nearly every major decision Rahim makes, be it honest or duplicitous, is suggested by someone else. It’s Farkhondeh who first tells him, in a moment of exasperation after Rahim expresses some ambivalence about cashing in the gold, that he should find the bag’s original owner. It’s a bank employee who advises him to put up the signs asking the owner to call him. Later, a helpful cabdriver recommends one particular ruse that winds up backfiring spectacularly. And so on. This lends the story a certain simplicity, bringing it further into the realm of a parable. But by depriving Rahim of any real agency, Farhadi also turns him into more of a symbol than a man — not a human trying to do the right thing but an impressionable vessel constantly acted on by external forces. Among other things, this renders moot the question that emerges later in the film, of whether Rahim’s actions were driven by decency or opportunism.

Farhadi remains a sharp, economical storyteller as well as a terrific director of actors. Rahim’s delicate presence — he’s all smiles, but he looks like you could knock him over with a feather — contrasts both conceptually and physically with his creditor, Bahram, whom Tanabandeh portrays with rocklike, head-down obstinacy. These two figures are not just narrative adversaries but aesthetic ones. Clever design, however, will only get you so far, and there’s an awkwardness to the way the plot gears creak into place as Rahim’s tale unfolds. His dodgy decisions feel less like the actions of a flawed but honest man and more like the contrivances of a filmmaker working toward a preordained conclusion. The movie is both moral fable and narrative mousetrap.

What A Hero often lacks is what made so many of Farhadi’s previous pictures so rich and captivating: the sense that beyond the frame lies a real world populated by real people, each trying to live a decent life — what critic Tina Hassannia, in her excellent 2014 book on the director, called his “pluralistic perspective on morality.” In the past, that multifaceted humanism both justified and enhanced Farhadi’s skills as a storyteller: He could let his characters twist in the wind a bit, because it never felt opportunistic or cheap.

A Hero doesn’t entirely fail in this regard. Farhadi acknowledges that characters such as Bahram — along with his daughter, Nazanin (Sarina Farhadi, the director’s own daughter), who winds up playing a larger-than-expected role in Rahim’s undoing — have their own reasons. Here, too, however, Farhadi seems interested in them primarily as narrative devices. Because in order for Rahim’s tale to achieve maximum levels of suspense and outrage, some of these characters have to act like sociopaths. It feels like the supremacy of storytelling over humanity, whereas before in Farhadi’s work, those two forces were often inextricably intertwined. (I’ll admit, however, that his acclaimed 2016 film, the Oscar-winning The Salesman , left me similarly frustrated, so perhaps he’s simply moved on.)

Watching A Hero , I was repeatedly reminded of the director’s second feature, Beautiful City (2004), another tale of incarceration and forgiveness. In that film, a teenage ex-con attempts to save his best friend, an 18-year-old on death row, by trying to convince the father of the girl the boy had killed to grant clemency. (Again, another feature of Iran’s Sharia-based legal system.) Beautiful City is told largely from the point of view of the ex-con and the sister of his imprisoned pal. But in key moments, Farhadi lets us into the intimate world of the grieving father: a broken, embittered, sometimes violent man trying to do right by his dead daughter, who had also been his sole remaining connection to his late first wife. By allowing us to experience the father’s inner torment, Farhadi builds a tale of breathtaking complexity, one where a genuinely happy outcome — which once felt so clear and attainable — seems increasingly impossible. Beautiful City isn’t perfect by any means; though lovely, it’s a far cry from Farhadi’s later masterpieces such as About Elly (2009) and A Separation (2011). But its awesome, heartbreaking ambiguity also feels miles away from A Hero ’s often transparent manipulations.

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‘A Hero’ Review: Asghar Farhadi Chews More Than He Bites Off in This Tale of a Desperate Good Samaritan

At moments, the Iranian director's new movie evokes the rapt domestic suspense of "A Separation" and "The Salesman," but it's more diffuse and less potent.

By Owen Gleiberman

Owen Gleiberman

Chief Film Critic

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A Hero

In movies like “A Separation,” “The Past,” and “The Salesman,” the Iranian writer-director Asghar Farhadi has demonstrated a unique ability to take “ordinary” human situations, usually on the domestic front, and play them out in a way that is so minutely authentic yet suspenseful that they give you the sensation that life itself, if observed closely enough, is a kind of thriller. “ A Hero ,” Farhadi’s latest film (it’s his fourth to premiere at Cannes), very much wants to be a drama of that ilk. Its story of an achingly modest and desperate man who becomes, all too fleetingly, a much discussed figure on television and social media is a story that one could easily imagine being set within the bubbling maelstrom of our own frenetic image culture.

Rahim, the central character, is serving time for an unpaid debt and has been given a two-day leave from prison, during which he launches a plan to salvage his situation. Amir Jadidi, the actor who plays him, is handsome in a placid, at times nearly frozen way. He resembles the young Armand Assante, and when he smiles it’s with a warmth that beckons those around him. Yet there’s a passivity to Rahim that bespeaks his clenched inner fear. As we learn, he’s a man who is quietly drowning.

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To start a business, he borrowed money from a loan shark, who was then paid off by Braham (Mohsen Tanabandeh), Rahim’s dyspeptic creditor, who has now put him in jail. Rahim owes him 150,000 tomans, and not because he’s a deadbeat; his partner ran off with the money. Yet he needs to find a way to squelch the debt, and when Farkhondeh (Sahar Goldust), who Rahim has been secretly seeing, finds a lost handbag with 17 gold coins in it, that seems to be the way out.

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But gold prices have fallen (at least during the two days he’s out of jail), so Rahim launches a more ambitious — and ambiguous — plan. He puts up fliers with his phone number to attempt to locate the person who lost the gold. A woman shows up, in tears, claiming it’s her money, and Rahim (working through his sister) returns the gold. He is then invited on TV to explain what happened: that he badly needed those coins to pay off a debt, and still, he gave the coins back. He becomes a living, breathing media parable of Iranian altruism.

“A Hero,” which is set in the city of Shiraz, suggests that contemporary Iran feeds on these stories; they are ritualized demonstrations to the people of how good they are. Rahim, who is the single father of a son who stutters, is presented to the audience as a quietly tormented figure of humane mixed motives. He knew that he should give the money back, and did (he thought the karma of it might burn him if he didn’t), but he’s also trying to play his good deed to his advantage, for reasons that are more than reasonable. He’s throwing himself a life preserver. Does it work? Let’s just say that no good deed goes unpunished.

Farhadi stages highly effective scenes, showing what happens in a society that elevates ordinary people into “heroes” but, as a result, doesn’t trust the stories it’s telling itself. Rahim is honored at a public ceremony by a charity foundation, where they pass a collection plate for him; for a moment, he’s the poster boy. But he still doesn’t have enough money to pay Braham back, and the bald, bearded, scowling Braham, who strikes us as a Scrooge/Mr. Potter figure, is revealed to have a story behind his own sternness.

As a result of the money he gave Rahim, he lost the dowry for his daughter (Sarina Farhadi), with whom he runs an art store at a shopping center. All he wants is what he’s owed, and when he questions the machinery of public-image creation that has elevated Rahim, saying that people shouldn’t be lionized simply for doing the right thing, he kind of has a point. Rahim, let out of jail a second time, attempts to land employment, and when a squirrelly young council intelligence officer senses that there’s something fishy about his gold-coin story, he investigates it with the doggedness of a state cop. The woman who had claimed the money has now disappeared, and Rahim arranges for Farkhondeh to pretend to be her — a white lie, perhaps, but one that’s destined to blow up in his face.

There are further complications, as each new scene cooks up something to say about a society torn between a rigidly self-imposed morality and an economically ravaged reality. Yet “A Hero,” in the end, is a rather diffuse movie: top-heavy with “insights” yet somewhat vague and detached as the saga of an ordinary man out to save himself. The film is two hours and 7 minutes long, and its structure is repetitive more than it is developmental.

After Rahim erupts in the shopping center and physically attacks Braham, social media comes into play. A video of the attack makes Rahim look like a hypocrite — and Braham’s vengeance, too, will be played out on social media. Will Rahim himself fight back by using social media as a weapon? Saleh Karimai, the young actor who plays his son, has a doleful and vivid presence, yet late in the film, when Rahim is placed in the position of exploiting his son’s stutter, the scene should be the wrenching culmination of everything we’ve been watching — and instead it plays as one more well-meaning, emotionally staid decision. “A Hero,” for all that’s good in it, is a Farhadi movie that speaks to our heads (and sometimes has us scratching them) more than it does our hearts.

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‘A Hero’ Review: Asghar Farhadi’s Latest Moral Dilemma Is His Best Film Since ‘A Separation’

David ehrlich.

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Editor’s note: This review was originally published at the 2021 Cannes   Film Festival. Amazon Studios releases the film in select theaters on Friday, January 7, with a streaming release on Amazon Prime Video to  follow on Friday, January 21.

Here’s some free advice for any movie characters out there: If you ever happen to stumble upon a random bag full of money — and it’s not much of a stretch to assume that you might someday — the very first thing you should do is look up and check if the opening credits are still floating in the air nearby. If you see the words “directed by Peter Farrelly,” you might be in for a pretty good time and an even better tuxedo. If you see the words “directed by Joel and Ethan Coen,” I regret to inform you that you’re already dead. But in the event that you should come across a sudden windfall only to turn your smiling head to the heavens and see the words “A film by Asghar Farhadi ” painted in white letters against the blue skies of Shiraz, well… there’s really no telling what you should do, only that you soon won’t be able to tell if you did the right thing. As one character ruefully observes in Farhadi’s latest film: “Nothing is free in this world.”

Epitomized by the heart-wrenching uncertainty of 2011’s “A Separation,” Farhadi’s social melodramas begin with straightforward predicaments that are peeled back — layer by layer, and with deceptive casualness — while the hard bulb of a moral crisis is revealed deep underneath. His stories are better described as dilemmas, and those dilemmas unfold with the frustration, resolve, and steadily increasing ferocity of a cat batting a tethered ball to itself around a pole until the string is stretched tight enough that everything chokes to a standstill.

Farhadi plays to his strengths with “ A Hero ,” as he takes a classic premise and spins it around and around and around with enough centrifugal force to keep you rooted in place even as your sympathies fly in every conceivable direction. By the time this expertly constructed ethical clusterfuck finally slows to a stop, the simplest film that Farhadi has made since his international breakthrough 10 years ago has somehow become the most ambivalent, and also the best (although making such a pronouncement with certainty seems almost antithetical to the spirit of a movie that obliviates your judgement at every turn).

Back to that bag of money. Any number of stories begin with a man walking out of prison, but few of those men have ever been trying so hard to contain a smile. Rahim (an extraordinary Amir Jadidi) fails at that task so badly that Farhadi’s jittery digital camera picks up his teeth from the far side of a highway, but that’s just part of the guy’s hangdog charm. Handsome despite a neck that’s been stooped by misfortune, Rahim seems oddly relaxed for a divorcee who only has a two-day leave from the medium-security jail where he’s lived for the last few years after failing to repay a debt.

And there’s a good explanation for our guy’s chill vibes: His secret girlfriend Farkhondeh (Sahar Goldust) has just found a woman’s handbag on the street containing 17 gold coins, which might be enough to convince Rahim’s creditor to drop the charges against him. He doesn’t want to complicate things by telling his wary sister where the money is coming from, or by making promises to his young son that he can’t keep (the kid already has enough on his plate with a bad stutter and the bullying it leads to at school). But this is a Farhadi film, and so it’s safe to assume that things are soon complicated all the same, and nothing is promised to anyone beyond the fact that life will frustrate their best intentions.

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There’s only so much that needs to be said about the countless twists and turns the story takes from there, particularly as the plot hinges less on new information than it does on the see-saw of public opinion. Upon discovering that the bag doesn’t contain quite enough money to set him free, Rahim determines to find the woman it belongs to and return it to her; once his over-involved warden gets wind of this seemingly noble deed and decides that it’s the kind of PR the prison needs to deflect attention away from an ugly recent incident, the moral arithmetic of Rahim’s choice suddenly becomes a communal equation to solve. Now there are other reputations on the line, and possibly other lives as well.

Farhadi has a flair for stacking rights on top of wrongs until they all topple over into a single mixed-up pile on the floor — it’s hard to say if he’d be a brilliant Jenga player or a terrible one — and in that regard “A Hero” is one of his most effortless constructions. The film misses the core emotional charge of “A Separation” despite a similar eagerness to wade into the weeds of Iranian civil law, but what it lacks in brute force sentiment it makes up for in the Socratic purity of its structure and the childlike simplicity of its central question: What’s the difference between doing a good deed and not doing a bad one?

If the characters in Farhadi’s scripts are still bound to their rhetorical functions (not quite to the same oppressive degree as the ones in Pete Docter’s, but close enough to justify mentioning “Soul” in the same parenthetical as “A Separation”), it helps that Rahim himself is so conflicted over the morality of his actions. Farhadi might not be a filmmaker you expect to tackle the emotional ramifications of social media, but in his low-key way, he manages to spin Rahim’s diffidence into a shrewd portrait of how random faces in the crowd can sow doubt into someone’s own self-understanding. “A Hero” seldom brings that aspect to the fore, but it’s always there in the shadows — the flipside of a story about the pitfalls of treating decency as a public spectacle (and a theme that helps to explain the iPhone-esque aesthetic, to some degree).

So much of this film’s slow-churning power comes from the growing tension between what people decide about Rahim’s actions second-hand, and how he feels about them himself. The brilliance of Jadidi’s performance isn’t in his soft likeability, but rather in the character’s performance of it; how Rahim leans into it, pushes against it, and tries to pull himself out from a tailspin of bad decisions even as he keeps making them worse. Each new character who’s introduced to the story comes equipped with their own preconceptions, the judgements of which escalate at the same rate as the lies that Rahim — and his metastasizing roster of collaborators — have to tell in order to undo the damage of the lies they’ve already told.

Some aspects are better-integrated into the growing swirl than others (a hostile HR employee at the company where Rahim wants to work comes to mind), but Farhadi is too sharp a scenarioist to introduce any superfluous pieces. Even his worst movies offer a kind of Ikea-worthy functionality, and ship with exactly as many pieces as you need to put them together, but “A Hero” is one of his best for how each of its parts help complicate the design to completion. And it takes all of them to reach another of Farhadi’s signature endings — poignant and understated as ever, yet this time ruefully well-aware of how the search for moral purity can be futile once it falls under the public eye. If only a personal sense of honor were worth the cost of keeping it. If only there had been enough money in that bag to make him want to do the wrong thing.

“A Hero” premiered in Competition at the 2021 Cannes Film Festival. 

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“A Hero” Makes a Mockery of the Heroic

By Anthony Lane

Amir looking to the side walking in front of a city

The hero of “A Hero,” the new film from Asghar Farhadi , is a sign painter and calligrapher named Rahim (Amir Jadidi). As the story begins, he leaves prison and is driven up the wall. To be precise, up a cliff of pale rock, rich in elaborate carvings, northeast of the Iranian city of Shiraz. The cliff is the home of a necropolis, Naqsh-e Rostam, and Rahim finds it covered in scaffolding; climbing high, he greets his brother-in-law, the rotund and genial Hossein (Alireza Jahandideh), who is working at the site. The wind whistles gently around them, and Hossein brews tea, close to the tomb of Xerxes the Great, a Persian king who died almost two and a half thousand years ago. Rahim, by contrast, is on a furlough for two days, after which—not unlike Eddie Murphy in “48 Hrs.” (1982)—he must return to prison. Observing the scene, you feel dizzy at the doubleness of time. It expands and contracts, either stretching far into the distance or slamming shut.

Something else, however, makes you no less uneasy, and that is Rahim’s smile. It looks friendly and generous, but it’s also weirdly weak, and it can fade like breath off a mirror. This is clever casting on Farhadi’s part; we warm to Rahim’s crestfallen charm, and instinctively feel him to be down on his luck, yet we don’t entirely trust him, and the film proceeds to back our initial hunch. What led to his incarceration was an unpaid debt. His creditor, Bahram (Mohsen Tanabandeh), is grave, dour, and disinclined to forgive, despite being related to Rahim by marriage. (Just to thicken the mood, Bahram is a dead ringer for the Mandy Patinkin character, Saul, in “ Homeland .”) “I was fooled once by his hangdog look, that’s enough,” Bahram says of Rahim, and we can’t help wondering, Could the dog be fooling us as well?

Anyone who has seen Farhadi’s earlier films, such as “About Elly” (2009) and “A Separation” (2011), will know how cunningly he doles out information, piece by piece. Thus, in the new movie, we gradually realize that Rahim has an ex-wife; that she will soon be married to someone else; that, while he’s been locked up, his sister Mali (Maryam Shahdaei) has been caring for his son, a shy kid with a stutter; that Farkhondeh (Sahar Goldust), a young woman beloved of Rahim, is the boy’s speech therapist; and so on. These things are true, but they are hard to cling to, because they are bundled up with things that are not necessarily true—secrets and lies, in which Rahim is all too quick to acquiesce. And the bundling only gets worse.

The salient event in “A Hero” occurs before the start of the action. Farkhondeh, we learn, has stumbled on a bag of gold coins beside a bus stop. Gold! The answer to the prayers of the wretched! As on the necropolis, and in the Dickensian idea of being jailed for debt, the modern is interfused with the bygone. The film is full of cell phones and social-media posts, yet we are solemnly asked to believe in a rare discovery, shiny with temptation, that would not be out of place in the “Arabian Nights.” Such is Farhadi’s skill, needless to say, that we do believe. And such is Rahim’s pliability that we readily accept his next move. Despairing of selling the coins for sufficient cash, he arranges to seek out their rightful owner and restore them, as if he, not Farkhondeh, had found the treasure. This tactic of his, dishonestly honest, becomes a news item, and, with his furlough over, he winds up on TV as a model of transparency and probity. According to the prison authorities, Rahim “has proved with this act that one can prioritize good deeds over personal interest.” There you have it, freshly baked: a hero.

To reveal what happens after this would spoil the bitter pleasures of a tough tale. Much of the movie unfolds in tight spaces: offices, cars, corridors, and the living room of Mali’s house, where food is laid out to welcome Rahim on his brief release. Most cramped of all is the copying-and-printing store where Bahram works, and where a fight breaks out between him and Rahim—a scrappy and humiliating tussle that is caught on camera. Will the footage go viral, with disastrous consequences for Rahim’s cause? Is he not learning, the hard way, that any attempt to manhandle public opinion is bound to snap back in one’s face, and would the lesson be any different for his counterpart in an American drama?

If I had to pick a running mate for “A Hero,” it would be Preston Sturges’s “Hail the Conquering Hero” (1944), in which a well-meaning wuss is (a) acclaimed for his soldierly courage, despite not having served in the war, and (b) too compliant, and maybe too tickled by pride, to set the record straight. Tonally, the two films could not be further apart; Sturges skids toward anarchy, while Farhadi patiently cranks up the moral suspense until we can barely breathe. What both directors make plain, nevertheless, is that their heroes are not alone in their folly, and that if they teeter unhappily on their pedestals it’s because we—ordinary citizens, puffed-up officials, or loving kinfolk—are rash enough, and emotionally avid enough, to plant them there. Take the charity organizers who put Rahim up on a platform, in front of an applauding audience: Are they really moved by his predicament, or are they merely buffing their own credentials?

By a useful coincidence, “A Hero” arrives in cinemas (for viewers hardy enough to visit them) in the wake of Joel Coen’s “The Tragedy of Macbeth.” Watch one after the other and you may decide, as I did, that “A Hero” is the more Shakespearean of the two. Coen’s film is powerful but hermetic, sealed off within its stylized designs, whereas Farhadi reaches back to “The Merchant of Venice” and pulls the play’s impassioned arguments into the melee of the here and now. Granted, the here means Iran, and, in place of an ugly clash between Jewish and Christian jurisdictions, the legal and theological backdrop is exclusively Islamic; but listen to the tenor of the talk. “I don’t want to slander him, but I warn you,” Bahram declares of his debtor, “if he doesn’t pay me, I’ll denounce him.” Here is a story about bonds, breaches of promise, and the bearing of false witness; just as Shylock takes root at center stage, often consigning Antonio—the merchant of the title—to the wings, so Bahram grows ever more immutable in his grievance, and the hapless Rahim ever less deserving of our sympathy. Even his son is dragged into the tangle of his deceit. “A Hero” makes a mockery of the heroic.

Theatrical windows, these days, don’t stay open for long. Before you know it, they are closed and barred, and even respectable movies are hustled, with indecent haste, through the streaming door. A case in point: little heed was paid to George Clooney ’s “The Tender Bar” when it landed in cinemas, before Christmas. Now, already, it has arrived online—the proper moment, I’d say, to repair an injustice and to give the film, with its nicely rubbed blend of roughness and delicacy, the chance it deserves.

The hero is JR. He is played as a boy of eleven by Daniel Ranieri and later, as a student at Yale and an aspiring writer, by Tye Sheridan. Everybody asks what JR stands for; everybody, that is, except the guy at the Times who takes him on as a trainee, and who tells him to change his name to J. R., with a couple of periods nailed on, if he wants a byline. Beneath such quibbling lies the primal wound of JR’s life—the absence of his father (Max Martini), a radio host whom he hardly sees, though he hears his whiskey-varnished voice on the airwaves. At one of their rare meetings, JR says, “A doctor at school says I have no identity.” “Jesus. Get one,” his old man replies. Martini has only a few scenes, yet each of them burns a hole in the film as if he were stubbing out a butt.

Requiring stability, JR and his mother (Lily Rabe) find it at the Long Island home of his grandfather (Christopher Lloyd), who is—you guessed it—crotchety but kind. Also in residence is Charlie ( Ben Affleck ), who is JR’s uncle, de-facto father, and—another good guess—a spigot of wisdom, pouring forth instruction in what he calls “the male sciences.” He’s an autodidact to boot, and there’s a wonderful shot of the young JR seated on a bed, facing a closet crammed with books. “What you do is, you read all of those,” Charlie says.

The gist of the critical response has been that “The Tender Bar” follows a well-worn path. Fair enough, but is that such a sin? (You should try the new “Matrix” movie. Now, that’s worn.) What counts is the firmness of the tread, and Clooney sets a careful but unloitering pace. Together with his editor, Tanya Swerling, and his screenwriter, William Monahan, he insures that the warmth of the tale—adapted from a memoir by J. R. Moehringer—doesn’t turn fuzzy in the telling, and that, as in any honest recollection of youth, the funny stuff is the flip side of pain. Hence the advice that JR receives from a pal: “When you suck at writing, you become a journalist.” No comment. ♦

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The Iranian 2021 drama  A Hero   is universally relatable, which makes the snowballing misfortune all the more haunting. Another project written and directed by Asghar Farhadi — the man behind the Oscar-winning films  A Separation  (2011) and  The Salesman  (2016) —  A Hero examines the seemingly insurmountable challenges one family faces to pay back an old debt, all while questioning the ethics of their choices. There are no villains nor true heroes in this story — only everyday people doing the best they can in an increasingly bad situation. Simply put, Asghar Farhadi's  A Hero is a poignant morality play that shows how a single poor choice can have unforeseen, lifelong repercussions.

Rahim (Amir Jadidi) is an atypical protagonist in  A Hero.  The film opens with him on leave from prison, excitedly planning a way to pay off his outstanding debt, finally allowing him to be released from incarceration and start working toward regaining his "honor." This is a recurring theme throughout — although the lines blur between "honor" and "pride." The basic conflict in A Hero  is surprisingly mundane: Rahim is incarcerated because of a debt he is unable to pay back. However, after a stroke of good luck, he comes across a windfall that can help him stay out of prison. Unfortunately for Rahim, the situation is complicated by various factors, all of which become increasingly problematic as time goes on.

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A Hero Rahim

The crux of the issue, at least in the beginning, is that Rahim owes money to a creditor who does not want to drop the complaint against him. Rahim is divorced, and his creditor is his former brother-in-law, Bahram (Mohsen Tanabandeh), to whom Rahim owes 150,000 toman. Iranian law permits the imprisonment of debtors (by request of the creditor) until either one of three conditions is met: the debtor is able to repay what he owes, the debtor proves that they are indigent, or the creditor is persuaded to withdraw the complaint. Rahim is obviously unable to earn money while in prison, which means he is completely dependent on charity — either family, friends, or even strangers paying off the debt for him, or the creditor withdrawing the complaint.

Farhadi presents a frustrating, and very believable, portrait of a struggling family with few options. Amir Jadidi gives a nuanced performance in the lead role, instilling his character Rahim with a surprising amount of depth. Ethically, Rahim occupies an uncomfortable space: while he shows signs of deviousness, and clearly made mistakes in the past, he still comes across as a well-meaning, loving father, brother, and boyfriend. Rahim is more deflated than roguish.  A Hero  shows how much the man enjoys being in the spotlight, a seemingly permanent grin is fixed to his face for the whole first act. But apart from a tendency to embellish his stories, Rahim appears to be an upstanding man. The man may not be beyond reproach, but he certainly doesn't come across as someone who deserves to be incarcerated.

A Hero Farkhondeh

A Hero  features various parties with differing motivations, which complicate Rahim's situation in interesting and unexpected ways. Farkhondeh (Sahar Goldust) is his secret girlfriend who wants to see him freed from prison. The creditor, Bahram, is clearly angry, but his position is nonetheless understandable. Even the charity that becomes involved in Rahim's case and the prison administrators have their own angles, acting in ways that best serve their own interests. In many ways,  A Hero  presents a series of victims who struggle under the social pressures caused by an unjust system. Rahim has little chance of paying back his debt, but Bahram needs that money. Public image is a major concern of almost every character, which further muddies the ethical waters.

By the end of  A Hero , even the most suspicious actions suddenly feel deeply insignificant. Farhadi takes a deceptively simple problem and imbues it with multiple layers of complexity — creating a baffling moral predicament in the process. The film offers a glimpse at the intimate home life of Rahim and his family, contrasting the stark, impersonal sterility of the prison with the warm, inviting environment within the home. It's a remarkably compelling film that is sure to stay in the hearts and minds of audiences for years to come.

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A Hero  debuts on Amazon Prime Video on January 21, 2022. It is 127 minutes long and is rated PG-13 for some thematic elements and language.

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Summary Rahim is in jail for a debt he hasn't been able to pay. During a two-day leave, he tries to convince his creditor to withdraw his complaint in exchange for paying back part of the debt. Rahim is then confronted with a crisis he would never have imagined.

Directed By : Asghar Farhadi

Written By : Asghar Farhadi

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Amir jadidi, rahim soltani, mohsen tanabandeh, sahar goldoost, fereshteh sadre orafaiy, mrs. radmehr, ehsan goodarzi, sarina farhadi, maryam shahdaei, alireza jahandideh, farrokh nourbakht, mohammad aghebati, saleh karimaei, siavash soltani, ali ranjbari, the taxi driver, fatemeh tavakoli, the owner of the coins, the prisoner, naghameh ghavanlou, mrs. fathi - the wife of the person under execution, parisa khajehdehi, mrs. marvasti, mohammad jamalledini, habib bakhtiari, majid shenavar, the gold seller, nader shahsavari, critic reviews.

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A Hero ★★★★ (PG) 127 minutes

“When Alexander saw the breadth of his domain, he wept, for there were no more worlds to conquer.” That was Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman) in Die Hard , although he admitted the phrase came from a classical education.

Early in A Hero , the protagonist Rahim (Amir Jadidi) is released from debtor’s prison for two days, to repay his debt. He goes to see his brother-in-law Hossein (Alirezah Jahandideh), who works as a restorer on the grave of Xerxes, at Naqsh-e Rostam, near Persepolis in southern Iran. He needs to talk about money.

Rahim (Amir Jadidi) faces a moral dilemma in Asghar Farhadi’s A Hero.

Rahim (Amir Jadidi) faces a moral dilemma in Asghar Farhadi’s A Hero. Credit: Amirhossein Shojaei

The camera glides across monuments cut into the huge cliff walls, similar to Petra. This place is beyond imposing. Rahim starts to climb a scaffold that must be 15 storeys high. The camera watches him go up, without a cut. The shot must take two minutes.

In stylistic terms, that shot sorts the sheep from the goats. It breaks the Western rules of editing that celebrate brevity and cutting for real-time grace. Director Asghar Farhadi is telling us to take a deep breath and readjust expectations, particularly to do with time. He’s also setting up the idea this culture has done great things before.

What comes next can be read as a comment on modern Iranian society. Like every Iranian filmmaker, Farhadi has to tread carefully, even though he is like Alexander, with few worlds left to conquer.

Rahim (Amir Jadidi) is released from debtor’s prison for two days to repay a debt in A Hero.

Rahim (Amir Jadidi) is released from debtor’s prison for two days to repay a debt in A Hero.

His films have won two Oscars for best foreign film ( A Separation and The Salesman ). He has won at Cannes and most of the world’s other top-tier festivals. This is his sixth feature since 2009, and each has been a critical and commercial success. A Hero is no different — a superbly engaging moral drama about modern-day Iran — although its origins have been mired in controversy and court cases.

One of Farhadi’s students claims he stole the idea . She made a documentary about a man in Shiraz who became famous when he handed in a bag of cash that he found while on leave from a debtor’s prison. Whatever the truth, the film is a sprawling drama about life in modern Iran. It is not always easy to interpret and the action might be considered slow, but the rewards are great.

Rahim has nothing but his honour: the question is whether he is prepared to compromise it for the sake of getting free. As in almost every one of Farhadi’s films, someone tells a lie and the consequences are large. As moral tales, his films have no equal, but they also give us a very pungent sense of the forces at work in Iranian society, particularly on the level of class conflict. His film technique is subtle, with masterful control of the dynamics of story.

A Hero is in cinemas from June 9.

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Amir Jadidi in A Hero (2021)

Rahim is in prison because of a debt he was unable to repay. During a two-day leave, he tries to convince his creditor to withdraw his complaint against the payment of part of the sum. But t... Read all Rahim is in prison because of a debt he was unable to repay. During a two-day leave, he tries to convince his creditor to withdraw his complaint against the payment of part of the sum. But things don't go as planned. Rahim is in prison because of a debt he was unable to repay. During a two-day leave, he tries to convince his creditor to withdraw his complaint against the payment of part of the sum. But things don't go as planned.

  • Asghar Farhadi
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The Salesman

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  • Trivia Was inspired by the true story of Mohammad Reza Shokri, a man who returned a bag of cash he found while on a leave from a debtors' prison in Shiraz.

Salehi : What's up?

Rahim Soltani : I don't want this to be shared.

Salehi : Believe me, when he was speaking, I nearly cried. Whoever sees it will be overwhelmed.

Rahim Soltani : I don't want my son to be seen like that.

Salehi : It's to your advantage and his. People will be on your side. Even that woman may see it and call you.

Rahim Soltani : No, delete it.

Salehi : Think a bit... The kid said nothing bad.

Rahim Soltani : I don't want...

Salehi : You think it's only about what you want? The reputation of all of us is at stake.

Rahim Soltani : You want it back through my son's stutter?

  • Connections Referenced in Radio Dolin: Serebrennikov in Cannes, Russian "Inglourious Basterds", Pierce Brosnan... (2021)
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  • Dec 27, 2021
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  • January 21, 2022 (United States)
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Movie Review – A Hero (2021)

January 3, 2022 by Robert Kojder

A Hero , 2021.

Written and Directed by Asghar Farhadi. Starring Amir Jadidi, Mohsen Tanabande, Fereshteh Sadr Orafaee, Sahar Goldust, Maryam Shahdaie, Ali Reza Jahandideh, Ehsan Goodarzi, Sarina Farhadi, Farrokh Nourbakht, Mohammad Aghebati, and Saleh Karimai.

Rahim is in prison because of a debt he was unable to repay. During a two-day leave, he tries to convince his creditor to withdraw his complaint against the payment of part of the sum. But things don’t go as planned.

They say no good deed goes unpunished, but for Rahim (an engrossing Amir Jadidi at a crossroads between familial duty and honor, and slight deception that spirals out of control), his good deed in two-time Oscar-winning writer and director Asghar Farhadi’s A Hero is nothing but punished. Granted, there is some sly behavior behind it. Allowed out of jail for a brief two-day period, Rahim has a plan to pay off his debt and be free once and for all, which is meeting up with his secret girlfriend Farkhondeh (Sahar Goldust), who has stumbled across someone’s lost purse containing 17 gold coins. The thinking is that the money could be used to pay off creditor Bahram (Mohsen Tanabandeh), a man that indeed hangs onto a grudge and doesn’t seem willing to give Rahim any more chances.

Unfortunately, the value of the coins turn out to be less than anticipated, which is also fine since Rahim was having second thoughts about the morality behind that action. Or maybe he wasn’t. After all, this is a hangdog sad sap who his ex-wife’s family seems hesitant to trust when he proclaims he will start working again to provide for his speech impediment saddled son Slavish (Saleh Karimai). When Rahin purchases newspaper ad space and lists the prison number as a contact for the rightful owner of the purse, it’s not long before someone can describe its contents in full and is on the way to pick it up from his sister Mali’s (Maryam Shahdaie) home.

Everyone surrounding Rahim assumes this is part of a scheme, while the greater public is quick to praise on social media. Naturally, fundraiser groups and job employers take notice, spinning the situation into a remarkably positive one as long as the kindness is somehow able to pierced the unforgiving heart of Bahram. Asghar Farhadi also knows how to generate empathy for Bahram, further expressing how the fuck-ups from Rahim affected his personal life, including something near and dear to his daughter. With that said, even if he gets a job, the uncertainty of freedom hangs in the air.

This is also where A Hero ever so slightly takes on the form of a mystery regarding how the woman reclaims the purse and her damn near invisible presence in the world. As a result, various groups start poking holes and catching onto the white lie of Rahim’s version of events, with other aspects of social media firing up the rumor mill. On that note, in a cinematic landscape where filmmakers rarely know how to integrate Internet trending into a narrative without it coming across like a convenient crutch, Asghar Farhadi is aware that it’s not about how many eyes are on the ongoing story, but rather what they are saying, which side can be the loudest, and who can sway public opinion the most. Sometimes all that matters is what’s most fresh in the mind of the Internet.

To say more would be a disservice for anyone interested in watching A Hero , but it should be noted that the script doesn’t necessarily have twists. Instead, the film starts as a character study of Rahim before expanding into an all-encompassing story centered on anyone involved with the publicity, what they have to gain, or how they can save face. The same people can go from accusing Rahim of being pitied for having a bullied child who has trouble speaking, to exploiting that sympathy for personal benefit. It’s a merry-go-round of moral issues that feels as if it might never end, and considering the strength of the writing, why would anyone ever want it to? There is a glimpse into systems so broken, prying so absurd, and an Internet culture so flippy floppy that one might think twice next time before performing the smallest act of kindness. It’s sad but true. However, we do have Asghar Farhadi as a hero to cinema.

Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★  / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★

Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check  here  for new reviews, follow my  Twitter  or  Letterboxd , or email me at [email protected]


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Stream It Or Skip It: ‘A Hero’ on Amazon Prime, a Tangled Iranian Drama About a Hapless Man Who Does Precisely the Right Wrong Thing

Where to stream:.

  • asghar farhadi

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Now on Amazon Prime, A Hero added more hardware to Iranian director Asghar Farhadi’s shelf, most notably the Cannes Grand Prix, which will go next to his Best Foreign Language Film Oscars for 2011’s A Separation and 2016’s The Salesman . He’s known for his immersive dramas exploring morality within Iranian culture, and A Hero is no different, telling the story of a man who may end up being endlessly punished for making a difficult, but ultimately honorable decision. Life, eh? Drives you nuts and mad and to drink sometimes.


The Gist: Trigger warning: This movie depicts so many instances of exasperating frustration, it may fray your nerves to sub-microscopic shreds and grind your patience to dust. Rahim (Amir Jadidi) has been in prison for three years and counting. He has a two-day leave, and then he’ll have to go back to serving a sentence of undisclosed length, for being unable to pay back a significant debt to a private lender. Yet he’s smiling wide: He doesn’t just get to see his girlfriend-on-the-sly, Farkhondeh (Sahar Godust), but she found a handbag on the street with 17 valuable gold coins in it. The plan is to cash them in, pay off his creditor Bahram (Mohsen Tanabandeh) and get out of jail. They’ll be able to get married, and he’ll get to see his young son, who’s staying with Rahim’s sister and brother-in-law.

Easy as pie – pie at the end of a maze designed by M.C. Escher. Turns out the coins aren’t worth enough to pay the debt in full, and gold prices fluctuate every hour anyway, and Bahram doesn’t want a portion of the debt, he wants it all, and besides, shouldn’t they try to find the coins’ rightful owner? What would YOU do? Don’t answer that. Cross that nightmare bridge that’s on fire and falling down when you come to it. Rahim puts up fliers and he goes back to prison and the woman who lost the coins calls the prison and why did he give out the prison’s number, shouldn’t he have given her a cell phone number? He’s not allowed a cell phone in prison, he says, but didn’t he text Bahram about paying back the debt? Yes, but he used another prisoner’s cell phone, and now that guy is probably in trouble for it now and is pissed at Rahim. The whole movie goes like this.

And so it continues, Rahim running as the road crumbles behind him, inches from his heels. The woman retrieves her purse with the coins and is relieved, she’s a humble laborer who scraped the money together by doing countless menial tasks. The prison wardens know what he did because the coin woman called the prison number – please don’t give out the prison number anymore, Rahim, and he says OK, he won’t – and they call a reporter to do a feelgood story about their morally upright prisoner who’ll make the prison look good on TV. Rahim really f—s himself when he fibs a little and says he found the handbag even though it was actually Farkhondeh, because he wants to keep their relationship secret for now, and even though the fib doesn’t come back to devour him immediately, just sit tight, that little minnow will become Jaws soon enough, and this movie is heavily populated with minnows.

The news story makes Rahim an upstanding citizen in the eyes of the public and a charity organization raises money for him with the help of Rahim’s son, who makes everyone extra generous because he speaks with a debilitating stutter, and maybe Rahim feels bad about exploiting him, especially because it gets him nowhere with Bahram because the money raised still isn’t enough and did you know Bahram is Rahim’s ex-wife’s brother in law who was nearly financially ruined by the loan he gave to a man who he calls a shyster, which could be true, although we only see him as a reasonably good-hearted guy who’s maybe a little slippery?

The charity arranges a job for Rahim – he’s still in prison, by the way, but on leave again – but the employer wants to fact-check his story because there’s rumors on social media that he made it up. Can he find the coin woman to corroborate? Of course not, because she didn’t use her own phone to make the calls, but maybe her cab driver knows, and then there’s a whole f—ing thing with the cab driver, and then another thing with the cab driver later in the movie. Eventually, the cab driver, the wardens, the charity people, the girlfriend, the stuttering son, the fact-check guy, the sister and the brother-in-law are all involved in this impossibly tangled impossibility, and I’m only sitting here watching a movie, and I want to move to Antarctica to live with the penguins.

What Movies Will It Remind You Of?: There’s a Coen Bros.-esque level of farce here – think A Serious Man minus the bleakness. There’s also a Safdie Bros.-level of ramped-up layers of tension – think Uncut Gems minus the fatalism.

Performance Worth Watching: Jadidi and his infectious smile make for a remarkably amiable, sympathetic character despite being beyond-remarkably put-upon by, if not fate, then society – until he loses it and gets violent, albeit only briefly and mostly inconsequential, and makes everything exponentially worse. Anyway. Jadidi’s performance is wholly believable – and, thankfully, subtly comic, lest the movie destroy him, and us, with his rampant misfortune.

Memorable Dialogue: Rahim’s sister Malileh sums it up for all of us: “I don’t know. I’m lost now.”

Also, this exchange:

Rahim: They’re saying I lied. I didn’t. Warden no. 1: But you didn’t tell the truth. Warden no. 2: You’re either very smart or very simple. Rahim: If I was smart, why would I be in jail?

Sex and Skin: None, because I’m convinced a single peck on the cheek would become another ludicrously detailed, morally ambiguous set of circumstances avalanching on poor Rahim, and the movie’s already giving us more than two hours of that.

Our Take: You. Just. Gotta. Laugh. To stop yourself from going crazy. Poor Rahim. Poor, poor Rahim. Sure, OK, he made some bad decisions and allowed others to take advantage of him and took a lot of lousy advice. But he gave the coins back to the coin lady! He can always go home, give his son a bath and tell him that the tiny diamond in the core of his heart, the one that made him do the right thing instead of the selfish thing, is pure. He’ll never sell that, and even if he tried, the gem dealer would find a flaw in it and ask him where he got it and if it’s actually his and someone would film Rahim getting upset at the dealer and post the video on social media and everyone in the world would hate him and ruin him on a whim.

Farhadi’s screenplay is a windshield with a chip in it, and all it takes is the slightest bump to make the glass spiderweb into countless fragments. You can still drive down the road because the windshield is still intact, but you’d struggle in your attempt to see the world through a million-zillion little shards and maybe you should stop before you implicate someone else by running them over. The world sees only the car and not the person at the wheel and – all right, enough with the metaphors. A Hero challenges and tests us about the nature of truth and deceit, exploring the bureaucracy of culture and society. Its characters debate reality and hypotheticals until they blur together. One person’s story leads to another leads to another, comprising a tangled skein of threads stitched together to make modern Iran, with the debtor’s prison and relative collectivism that separates it from the Western world, but with the self-serving exploitation and ubiquitous digital media they share.

This is a smart, engrossing film, bursting at the seams with ideas, pragmatic and philosophical. At times, the film feels more like an exercise than a story – how many mishaps, misfortunes and mistakes can Farhadi pile upon his poor tortured protagonist, before leading him to a ruthlessly ambiguous non-conclusion. But it also occasionally sweeps aside the clutter and finds simple truths in quiet moments – Rahim’s son crying himself to sleep after his father states his intention to remarry, for example, or a shot of a person on the street who’s clearly struggling to survive, and experiencing a life far worse than Rahim’s. Farhadi cultivates dramatic power by pairing such scenes with speculation and allegory, crafting one man’s maddening existence as an ant in a colony with no dead ends, just endless tunnels leading farther and farther and farther away from home.

Our Call: A Hero is a hell of a movie. STREAM IT, but only if you don’t mind two hours of nigh-crippling agitation.

Will you stream or skip Asghar Farhadi's Iranian drama #AHero on @PrimeVideo ? #SIOSI — Decider (@decider) January 25, 2022

John Serba is a freelance writer and film critic based in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Read more of his work at johnserbaatlarge.com .

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‘A Hero,’ from filmmaker Asghar Farhadi, is a Dostoyevskian tale of everyday tragedy

movie reviews a hero

Iran’s official Oscar submission, “A Hero” centers on Rahim Soltani (Amir Jadidi), a divorced calligrapher/sign painter in Shiraz who is serving a jail sentence for his failure to pay a creditor 150,000 toman (about $35). Yes, debtor’s prison is still a thing, and the story — by Golden Globe-winning writer-director Asghar Farhadi (“ A Separation ”) — isn’t set in the Middle Ages.

There are other aspects of the Iranian social order — such as a husband’s right to treat his wife like property, and her property as his — that inform the action of this Dostoyevskian tale.

The story begins during a two-day home leave that has been granted to Rahim, who uses the time to visit his girlfriend Farkhondeh (Sahar Goldust), who has found an abandoned purse on the street containing several gold coins, which Rahim hopes to exchange for cash toward his debt. But when he discovers that the money won’t be enough, he hits on a better plan: Find the owner of the purse and return the money, trusting that this act of decency will somehow be converted into currency — either the cold, hard kind, or some form of social credit that will benefit him.

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It briefly works.

Signs go up, and a woman shows up to collect the purse from Rahim’s sister (Maryam Shahdaei). Word gets around of the protagonist’s selflessness, and TV cameras roll, drummed up by prison officials, hoping to use the story to distract from bad publicity about a recent inmate suicide. A charitable organization raises a bunch of money for Rahim — only about half his debt, as it turns out — and offers him a job to help pay off the rest.

But only briefly.

Doubts arise about Rahim’s story, which has been embellished with harmless white lies, such as that he found the purse, not Farkhondeh. And the man to whom he owes money (Mohsen Tanabandeh), a relative of Rahim’s ex-wife, doesn’t want to settle for partial payment. It also doesn’t help that Rahim has a slippery past relationship with the truth: He omitted the fact that his original debt was to a loan shark, not a bank. And as embodied by Jadidi, Rahim wears an ever-present, nervous half-smile that occasionally feels inappropriate to the moment at hand, making him seem devious or, at times, deceptive.

When an official of the charity insists on meeting the owner of the purse — whose identity is unknown, and who may herself have lied about losing it — Rahim enlists Farkhondeh to impersonate the purse’s owner.

It’s a tiny bit of artifice in service of a larger truth, but things quickly spin out of control, leading to fisticuffs, and a viral video that is used as leverage against Rahim. Farhadi seems to be critiquing social media/cancel culture as a tool of coercion — a problem certainly not unique to Iran — but also aspects of Iranian society itself. The woman who shows up to collect the purse, for instance, is shifty because, she says, she’s afraid her husband will take her money.

It’s a tangled web, and not entirely one woven from deception. To a large degree, Rahim’s hands are tied. How exactly is he to get out of debt while he’s in prison? And yet, like a sheep, he returns at the appointed hour after his leave expires. In some ways, his life behind bars seems less precarious than life on the outside.

When Rahim’s young son (Saleh Karimai), who has a stammer, is exploited for public sympathy, stating hesitantly — yet, more or less, honestly — for a cellphone video that his father didn’t lie, it’s only Rahim who objects. The hero of “A Hero” is a good and decent man in a small tragedy not of his making. (His partner ran off with the loan money.)

The movie takes place in Iran, yet it’s really situated in the crack of daylight that separates truth from a lie. It’s a tight squeeze, Farhadi seems to say, and one whose pinch this tragedy of the everyday makes us feel, acutely.

PG-13. At area theaters, available Jan. 21 on Amazon. Contains some mature thematic elements, brief crude language and scuffling.

In Farsi with subtitles. 127 minutes.

movie reviews a hero

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Chris Pine 's first film as a director, "Poolman," is a character comedy about oddball Los Angelenos that doubles as a spoof of 1940s detective movies. Pine also cowrote (with Ian Gotler ), co-produced, and plays the title character, Darren Barrenman. Darren is a big-bearded, long-haired, talkative, thoroughly goofy pool cleaner who lives in a tiny trailer right next to the pool that he tends, which is in the courtyard of an old Tiki-style motel that's been converted into apartments. I think it's set in the present, but maybe not. Nobody uses a cell phone, and there's a heavy pre-1950s influence in the production design and costuming. One of the presumed bad guys drives a huge roadster like you'd see in the 1930s. The score is retro-hipster jazz with a violin and a zither. A mysterious woman named June Del Rey ( DeWanda Wise ) who appears out of nowhere and draws the hero into a mystery has a silhouette like a film noir dame and the wardrobe to match.

The mystery involves real estate and the corruption of a local city councilman named Stephen Toronkowsky, whom Darren sees each week at community meetings where he rants about historic preservation and the improvement of bus schedules. (The councilman is played by  Stephen Tobolowsky , whose name is so similar to the character's that you have to wonder if the part was written specifically for him.) Other films about corruption in Los Angeles are mentioned within the plot, including " Chinatown ," which gets multiple references plus actual clips, and "Who Framed Roger Rabbit," which Darren yells about at one of the council meetings. 

There's not a whole lot of plot to describe or even allude to, and I don't think "Poolman" is all that interested in what little there is. This is a vibes movie. Darren is a handsome, lovable, hairy man-child. His girlfriend Susan ( Jennifer Jason Leigh ), who manages the complex where Darren works, wants him to commit to her, but he's so lost in his own racing thoughts that he doesn't realize how much she adores him until it seems as if she's about to give up. Darren goes to therapy twice a week with a New Age-y lady named Diane ( Annette Bening ) and is apparently the star of a documentary by Diane's partner Jack (Danny DeVito), who's betting his entire career on the project even though it's hard to tell what it's actually going to be about. 

"Poolman" is a deeply weird movie. Not deeply weird in the sense of "alienating" or "hard to take." On the contrary, it's so gentle that it could probably be considered an example of  Nicecore , a type of film described by critic David Ehrlich that mostly avoids conflict and resolution and instead showcases people being nice to others. There are arguments and some treachery and one murder, but the killing so formal, in an old-movie way, that it barely registers as being violent. Most of the movie is laid-back or mildly farcical. 

No, the film is weird in the sense of "Can anyone but Chris Pine truly appreciate this?" I'm not asking that question because I disliked "Poolman." I thought it was sweet and fun, and once I settled into it and latched into its wavelength, I laughed a lot, even though it does start to wear out its welcome towards the end because so much of it is dependent upon exploring the emotional interior of the kind of guy you'd be happy to chat with at a bus stop but wouldn't want to sit next to. You don't throw yourself into a project like "Poolman" unless you have a burning urge to do it, but that urge doesn't always communicate itself.   

The movie has been repeatedly compared to " The Big Lebowski " and other films in that spoof-of-LA-noir vein; I suppose there are superficial similarities. But it reminded me more of an unpolished answer to something like Jim Jarmusch's Nicecore classic " Paterson ," which is about a New Jersey bus driver who writes poetry and loves his girlfriend. In its choice of hero and its hermetically sealed Something Old/Something New style, it is also (bizarrely at times) a kind-hearted mirror of " Taxi Driver " (instead of writing in a journal, Darren writes old fashioned letters on a typewriter to Erin Brockovich--the real crusading legal investigator, not Julia Roberts , who played Brockovich in the Oscar-winning movie). 

This is the kind of film where the hero makes origami figurines and gives them to others to convey messages or feelings, and where one of the baddies tells the hero, "Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known god." It's the kind of movie where, during a confrontation, one antagonist suddenly slumps with his head down and says, "I've had a hard week" and the other replies "Me, too" and they end up hugging. It's the kind of movie where a stakeout consists of five people hiding in plain sight from the people that they are surveilling, who make direct eye contact with them, and one of the stakeout participants is reading Karl Ove Knausgård's "My Struggle" and suddenly begins to recite a passage from it and looks right into the camera as she does it. There's also a dream sequence with a lizard whose voice is provided by Pine's dad Robert Pine , who became a star on the American TV cop show "CHiPs." 

That's all just another way of saying that this is the kind of film I think cinema could use more of, even though it's far from perfect. Robert Altman and Hal Ashby and Alan Rudolph all used to make movies like this, especially when they were working small, as in projects like " Brewster McCloud " and " Harold and Maude " and " Trouble in Mind ," which, like "Poolman," were all so wispily assembled that you could imagining them coming apart in a soft gust of wind, like a dandelion. There were also times when the movie reminded me of melancholy comedies starring Bening's husband Warren Beatty, who often played hunky man-children who were so lost in their heads that they were their own worst enemies.

"Poolman" was unveiled last year at the Toronto Film Festival and got slaughtered by reviewers. That seems puzzling to me in retrospect because the film is so upfront about its own kookiness and near-weightlessness and relentlessly sunny-side-up attitude that it's as hard to hate as a muffin basket or a big old fluffy dog. Some people won't be able to tolerate five minutes of it, but I think others will love it, and they won't be wrong to. I hope Pine makes more movies and refines whatever he was trying to do in this one. There are moments where it wanders into the sublime.

Matt Zoller Seitz

Matt Zoller Seitz

Matt Zoller Seitz is the Editor at Large of RogerEbert.com, TV critic for New York Magazine and Vulture.com, and a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in criticism.

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Poolman (2024)

100 minutes

Chris Pine as Darren Barrenman

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Review: 'The Garfield Movie' feels like a cynical cash grab

The film turns the mouthy, shamelessly lazy Garfield into an action hero.

It’s hard out there for family audiences. First the quality deficit of last week’s "IF" and now the further descent of "The Garfield Movie," only in theaters and probably your first destination choice for kids over the Memorial holiday weekend. What a bummer.

This misbegotten misfire looks to score at the box office until dire word of mouth kills it. Why the letdown? "The Garfield Movie" is brand marketing from filmmakers who don’t even bother to hide the blatant product placement. Lacking inspiration and perspiration, this despairingly off-kilter toon looks like a movie, talks like a movie, but feels like a cynical cash grab.

PHOTO: Scene from "The Garfield Movie."

All the elements are there. It’s an outdoor adventure for everyone’s favorite indoor cat. There’s Chris Pratt voicing Garfield, the tubby orange tabby who hates Mondays and loves lasagna. Samuel L. Jackson does the honors for his cool cat dad Vic.

What goes wrong? Start with the basic idea. Gone is the deadpan sarcasm of the comic strip that Jim Davis started in 1978 and continued in a syndicated TV series. The casual putdowns that Bill Murray built into two "Garfield" live-action movies from the aughts is also MIA.

2024 summer movie guide: All the biggest films to have on your radar

"The Garfield Movie," soon to be infamous for its bad decisions, turns the mouthy, shamelessly lazy Garfield into an action hero, voiced by Pratt with an energetic whoosh you hear in his Mario in "The Super Mario Bros. Movie." What the whoosh is doing here defies understanding.

PHOTO: Scene from "The Garfield Movie."

After a prologue showing Garfield abandoned as a kitten by dad Vic and adopted into a cushy life by the human and humane Jon Arbuckle (Nicholas Hoult), Garfield is off to the mischief races with Jon’s not-too-bright dog Odie (Harvey Guillén does the barks and whimpers).

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In no time, Garfield and Odie are kidnapped by the feline Jinx (Hannah Waddingham), a criminal crony of Vic’s who blames him for botching a milk heist that sent her to the pound. Having escaped, Jinx forces Vic, Garfield and Odie into a second robbery that intensifies the risk.

It’s doubtful that creator Davis and Garfield fans of the last half century would recognize the over-caffeinated kitty in these generic pyrotechnics directed by Mark Dindal ("The Emperor’s New Groove," "Chicken Little"). "I do my own stunts," brags Garfield, "me and Tom Cruise."

So there goes smartphone junkie Garfield (the better to order food), zipping around like a speed demon on a mission impossible that Cruise himself would envy as the tabby bends back a tree branch like a slingshot to shoot himself through the air and onto a speeding train.

PHOTO: Scene from "The Garfield Movie."

Yikes! Who is this super kittycat? Did you ever imagine sleepyhead Garfield mixing it up with Jinx and her doggie criminal peeps, Roland (Brett Goldstein) and Nolan (Bowen Yang). It’s a wonder they didn’t put Garfield in a mask and pass him off as a Marvel superhero.

Credit the movie with tugging at the heartstrings by reuniting Garfield and his daddy. But the script by Paul A. Kaplan, Mark Torgove and David Reynolds feels like like artificial intelligence cobbled it together from other, better movies (think "The Secret Life of Pets").

Nowhere to be seen is the cat who made a joke out of casual indifference. To enjoy "The Garfield Movie," it will help to be five years old or under, though even the toddler set is likely to cough up this recycled 101-minute hairball and move on. I suggest you do the same.

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Arnold Schwarzenegger 'didn't want to see anyone for a week' after first movie flop Last Action Hero

"I cannot tell you how upset that I was," he says in his Netflix docuseries. "It hurts you."

Jessica is a staff writer at Entertainment Weekly, where she covers TV, movies, and pop culture. Her work has appeared in Bustle, NYLON, Cosmopolitan, InStyle, and more. She lives in California with her dog.

Arnold Schwarzenegger recalled being shaken by the reception to his 1993 action comedy Last Action Hero , his first big box office flop.

In Netflix's three-part docuseries Arnold , the 75-year-old looks back at his career as bodybuilder, former governor of California, and, of course, movie star, recounting the early hits and misses of his Hollywood career, including the largely panned action comedy directed by John McTiernan .

Schwarzenegger played fictional action hero character Jack Slater in the film, centered on a young movie fan (Austin O'Brien) who, while reeling from the death of his father, receives a magical ticket from a theater employee that transports him into an action movie, where he bonds with the indestructible Slater. It opened with a meek $15.3 million at the domestic box office and $50 million worldwide.

"When Last Action Hero came out I had reached my peak after Terminator 2 , having the most successful movie of the year worldwide," Schwarzenegger recounts in the docuseries. So when the reviews for the film rolled out, "I cannot tell you how upset that I was," he says. "It hurts you. It hurts your feelings. It's embarrassing."

James Cameron , who directed Schwarzenegger in the Terminator films, recalls phoning the star the weekend after the movie opened. "He sounded like he was in bed crying," Cameron says. "He took it as a deep blow to his brand. I think it really shook him."

"I said, 'What are you gonna do?'" Cameron recounts. "He said, 'I'm just gonna hang out by myself.'" Cameron says with a laugh, "That's the only time I've ever heard him down."

"I didn't want to see anyone for a week," Schwarzenegger adds. "But you keep plodding along. And my mother-in-law also said this all the time: 'Let's just move forward.' It's a great message."

And move forward he did: At the suggestion of his brother-in-law Bobby, Schwarzenegger found himself watching the 1991 French comedy adventure La Totale! , which would serve as the basis of 1994's True Lies , his next film with Cameron.

"Arnold's bringing me a project that he believes in," Cameron says. "He'd never done that before. I thought we could have fun with comedy. I know he had done comedy. He has a good sense of humor."

They once again teamed up to make True Lies , an American adaptation of the film which followed Schwarzenegger's secret agent as he battled terrorists and turmoil in his marriage to his neglected wife ( Jamie Lee Curtis ). Grossing $378 millionworldwide, the film was a box office success.

"It's a play," he adds. "Life is a play. You have to be able to take the failures with the successes. And that's just the way it is."

All three episodes of Arnold are streaming now on Netflix.

Related content:

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The 55 Best Superhero Movies of All Time, Ranked


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There's no doubt about it: superhero movies have been all the rage within the last couple of decades, and don't seem to be going anywhere anytime soon. By no means was the genre invented in the 21st century, as there were plenty of iconic superhero films to be released during the previous century. However, the genre's seemed to click with modern-day viewers more than generations in the past, with many of the highest-grossing movies of the century so far being superhero movies.

There might not be as many superhero movies out there as movies in other, broader genres (like action movies, comedies, Westerns, etc.), but trying to pick the best of the best is still a daunting task. What follows is a ranking of some of the most exceptional superhero movies, representing the various ways larger-than-life heroes can be depicted on screen, whether in live-action or animation . These are some of the best in an ever-growing genre, and are ranked below from great to greatest.

55 'X-Men: First Class' (2011)

Directed by matthew vaughn.

James McAvoy as Professor X and Michael Fassbender as Magneto in X-Men: First Class

There’s no doubt about it: the X-Men film series has been through some pretty significant ups and downs over the years, since it all kicked off in 2000 (that original film being a pretty significant one for the overall superhero genre). 2006 and 2009 saw the releases of X-Men: The Last Stand and X-Men Origins: Wolverine respectively, with neither being particularly well-received, to say the least.

As such, it fell on 2011’s X-Men: First Class to rejuvenate the series, and it largely succeeded, bringing back familiar characters but showing them when they were younger, and having new stars like Michael Fassbender , James McAvoy, and Jennifer Lawrence . It’s a fun time and a very entertaining comic book movie, and gave way to an even better sequel three years later (more on that one a little later).

X-Men: First Class

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54 'Batman Forever' (1995)

Directed by joel schumacher.

Val Kilmer as Bruce Wayne and Nicole Kidman as Dr. Chase Meridian in 'Batman Forever'

Few people are going to label Batman Forever as their favorite Batman movie, but it might also be possible to call it a little over-hated/overlooked. It came out following Tim Burton ’s two live-action films, and got a little campier with things, though not to the point of Batman & Robin , which also has some fans but more detractors (both were directed by Joel Schumacher ).

It’s visually engaging, Val Kilmer makes for an underrated Bruce Wayne/Batman, and Tommy Lee Jones and Jim Carrey are clearly enjoying themselves in villainous roles (as Two-Face and the Riddler, respectively). So long as one goes into Batman Forever expecting a certain amount of comic book-flavored camp , a good time is likely to follow, even if the approach taken here might be something of an acquired taste.

Batman Forever

53 'shazam' (2019), directed by david f. sandberg.

Shazam posing and flexing his bicep in 2019's Shazam!

While its sequel might’ve been disappointing, the original Shazam! from 2019 was well-received and perhaps even a pleasant surprise, coming out at a time when superheroes seemed particularly dominant within pop culture. The premise of Shazam! involves a young boy being able to turn into an adult superhero whenever he utters the titular phrase, leading to inevitable comedy and chaos as he balances an immature outlook on life with impressive physical powers.

It sticks to what works when it comes to superhero origin stories, but the blend of action and comedy works to make Shazam! extremely watchable and an overall approachable superhero film . It’s unclear what the future holds for more movies in this series (they might not happen), but at least this original movie will always exist, and should hopefully remain a fun watch as the years march on.

52 'Spider-Man: Homecoming' (2017)

Directed by jon watts.

Spider-Man with his mask off looking ahead in Spider-Man: Homecoming.

Most people were well-versed with the origin story of Peter Parker/Spider-Man by 2017, so it was a wise decision for Spider-Man: Homecoming to gloss over a lot of that stuff, with Parker’s powers already established and no need to see Uncle Ben die (yet again). Genre-wise, it also feels unique, because, on top of being an action film, this superhero movie also feels more like a coming-of-age movie than other Spider-Man movies (and a funny one at that).

Tom Holland certainly feels more youthful than either Tobey Maguire or Andrew Garfield did, and the energy he brings to the role is rather infectious. It kicked off a solid trilogy that established Spider-Man in the MCU , with Homecoming still holding up well a few years on from its release, being fun, sometimes (kind of) low-stakes, but ultimately satisfying as a superhero flick.

Spider-Man: Homecoming

51 'robocop' (1987), directed by paul verhoeven.

robocop-1987-verhoeven (1)

Not everything in the overall RoboCop franchise is gold, but the original movie from 1987 certainly is, and shines as an immensely satisfying blend of action, science fiction, and satire. Some may question its status as a superhero movie, but it does function as a darkly funny one, in many ways, following a man who’s reborn as the titular figure, losing much of his humanity but also becoming an unstoppable crime-fighting machine.

RoboCop is ludicrously violent in a way that still packs a punch today , though much of it (beyond a horrifying scene early on) is played for dark comedy. It delivers the same sorts of thrills - and perhaps even a familiar origin story kind of narrative - that are found in a good many superhero movies, but nevertheless feels like a non-traditional one, even if you want to classify it as a kind of superhero movie. In any event, this is far from a bad thing, though.

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50 'Darkman' (1990)

Directed by sam raimi.

A masked Liam Neeson with a hat taking photos from behind a net in Sam Raimi's Darkman

Sam Raimi is a director who’s intrinsically tied to the superhero genre , mostly thanks to a certain web-slinger whose movies will be mentioned a little later… but his first foray into the genre is less well-known. That movie is Darkman , with the titular character (AKA Dr. Peyton Westlake) not being based on a previously established comic book character, and instead being from a short story that Raimi himself had already written.

Darkman is a strange kind of superhero movie, being a good deal darker in tone than many others out there, and also being a homage to classic horror movies from decades past, particularly those produced by Universal Pictures. Exploring a story about a wronged man impacted severely by a medical experiment, Darkman is all over the place but in a generally fun way, and has earned its cult status for sure.

49 'Man of Steel' (2013)

Directed by zack snyder.

Superman looking to the distance from the middle of a street in a small town in 'Man of Steel'

The films of Zack Snyder can certainly be divisive, but he’s nevertheless made a mark on the superhero genre and has an undeniably distinctive style (some would say for better, some would say for worse). He’s also noteworthy for kicking off the ultimately short-lived DC Extended Universe with Man of Steel , a movie that confidently took the legendary character of Superman and revitalized him for the modern day.

It's another origin story, so it's one that people are likely familiar with, but Snyder’s style and the expert casting of Henry Cavill helps it stand out and largely work. The action gets over-blown at a point, but Man of Steel effectively makes Superman feel like a modern-day mythological figure , with Cavill being supported by a talented cast that includes – but is not limited to – the likes of Kevin Costner , Amy Adams , Michael Shannon , and Laurence Fishburne .

Man of Steel

48 'the mask' (1994), directed by chuck russell.

Jim Carrey and Cameron Diaz standing close together in The Mask

1994 was a good year for movies in general, but it was also a notably great 12-month period for Jim Carrey . The actor exploded in popularity to a considerable extent, with lead roles in three movies that performed well financially and are still up there with his most well-known: Ace Ventura: Pet Detective , Dumb and Dumber , and The Mask .

The last of those is perhaps the strangest of the bunch, standing alongside the other two by being a comedy, but also functioning as an offbeat superhero movie with crime/fantasy/action elements added for good measure. It centers on an ordinary man who finds his personality and appearance changing after discovering and wearing the titular mask, with chaos and comical misadventures ensuing. It’s certainly a film of its time, but The Mask was a relatively early indication of how profitable/popular comic book movies could be, predating the genre’s boom in the early 2000s by a few years.

47 'The Rocketeer' (1991)

Directed by joe johnston.

the rocketeer 19910

A charming film that also goes to show how science fiction doesn’t always need to be futuristic , The Rocketeer delivers an old-school adventurous spirit and feels rather quaint today, given how prevalent the superhero genre’s become. It’s set during World War II, and involves a pilot becoming an instrumental figure for America in the war against Nazi Germany.

Notably, he gets a rocket-pack that allows him to fly around at a great speed, and from there, he takes part in a simple yet thoroughly engaging “good vs. evil” story that works well for what it is. Other parts of The Rocketeer may not hold up as well, at least on the technical side of things, given the film’s age. But, on the other hand, many flaws are able to be overlooked, or even go so far as to add to the film’s charms .

The Rocketeer

46 'chronicle' (2012), directed by josh trank.

Alex Russell, Michael B. Jordan, Dane DeHaan in Chronicle

Chronicle takes the found footage format and pushes it in an interesting direction, not being a found footage horror movie but, in actuality, a found footage superhero origin story … in a way. The plot involves three high school students learning that they’re developing strange powers, which at first is thrilling, but then becomes harrowing when one of the three starts enjoying the power he’s been given a little too much.

It's presented in a way that won’t appeal to those sensitive to motion sickness , but might well appeal to those who’ve grown tired of seeing stories about people with superpowers presented in traditionally cinematic ways. Chronicle is grounded, intense, and very well-paced, coming in at under 90 minutes and delivering a simple yet effective story bolstered immensely by its novel presentation.

45 'The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension' (1984)

Directed by w.d. richter.

The cast of The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension

The textbook definition of a 1980s sci-fi cult classic , The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension can also count itself as an offbeat, charming, and quite funny superhero film. The titular character is a man of many talents, and he runs a gang called the Hong Kong Cavaliers, all of whom band together to defend Earth from alien invaders that hail from the (also titular) 8th dimension.

The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension is wild and more than a bit silly (if you couldn’t tell from the title alone), but it’s the kind of thing that’s unafraid to do its own thing, taking no prisoners all the while. There’s a sense of style and confidence here that’s truly admirable, and those after a superhero movie that feels like no other superhero movie ought to check this underrated 1980s movie out.

The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the Eighth Dimension (1984)

44 'zebraman' (2004), directed by takashi miike.

Another unique superhero movie, Zebraman comes from the mind of Takashi Miike , the relentless and prolific Japanese filmmaker best known for controversial movies like Audition and Ichi the Killer . Zebraman , however, sees Miike tone down some of his more alarming or disturbing sensibilities, making something that feels like it could generally appeal to people of most (not all) ages, so long as such people also possess suitably strange senses of humor.

Zebraman follows a man going through a midlife crisis, and the way his life changes drastically when he decides to take on a vigilante persona in secret: the titular hero, Zebraman. Absurd comedy and some rather silly action scenes ensue, with things getting even wilder once aliens enter the picture. It’s not going to be for everyone, but its willingness to do something weird and commit to it wholeheartedly does make Zebraman admirable and oftentimes fun .

Watch on Tubi

43 'Dick Tracy' (1990)

Directed by warren beatty.

The cast of Dick Tracy

Starring Warren Beatty , Madonna , and a surprisingly Oscar-nominated Al Pacino , Dick Tracy could well claim to have one of the most impressive casts in the history of comic book/superhero movies. Beyond that main three, the cast also includes the likes of Mandy Patinkin , Dustin Hoffman , Dick Van Dyke , Paul Sorvino , James Caan , Kathy Bates , and Catherine O'Hara , to name just a few.

The look of Dick Tracy is similarly impressive, bringing comic book styling and sensibilities to the format of a live-action film in a bolder – and arguably better – way than most comparable films. The storyline, on the other hand, is fairly barebones, revolving around the titular hero taking on a group of vicious gangsters… but it’s the star power and style of Dick Tracy that go hand-in-hand to make it an impressive oddity, and one that still holds up as quite surprising and entertaining to this day.

42 'Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings' (2021)

Directed by destin daniel cretton.

Shang-Chi and Xialing

While its action might not quite be great enough for Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings to feel like an all-time great martial arts movie , it was cool to see a film from the MCU take inspiration from such films . The titular hero is incredibly talented at hand-to-hand combat, leading to plenty of great action set pieces that are melded well with various fantastical elements that also serve to distinguish the film from most other MCU entries.

On top of all that, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings does have the kind of familiar humor and pacing one finds in a modern superhero movie, but it’s all executed better across the board than much of the rest of the MCU’s fourth phase. It gets the job done and then some, and proves to be an incredibly entertaining watch.

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

Watch on Disney+

41 'Watchmen' (2009)

Watchmen - 2009 - opening (1)-1

Violent and brooding in an uncompromising way, 2009’s Watchmen feels like a Zack Snyder movie through and through , meaning fans of the director’s style will have a blast, and his detractors will likely remain unconverted. It’s an adaptation of the famed comic book series of the same name, and though it doesn’t prove as successful as a deconstruction of superhero-centered stories, it still at least touches upon that side of things.

Watchmen ’s potential thematic shortcomings are easier to overlook, however, when a film adaptation looks as consistently great as this 2009 movie does. It’s bombastic, hyper-stylized, and makes sure you see it all, thanks to plenty of sequences unfolding with healthy amounts of slow motion. Additionally, those who want to see another adaptation align a little closer to the comic series’ tone and themes thankfully have the HBO miniseries to watch , which was released in 2019.

Watchmen (2009)

40 'guardians of the galaxy vol. 2' (2017), directed by james gunn.

Chris Pratt as Starlord fighting Ego the Living Planet

There were an unusually high number of great movie sequels released in 2017 , and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 just so happened to be one of them. After the 2014 movie did a great job of making the titular squad instantly lovable and fan favorites within the MCU, Vol. 2 of what ended up being a trilogy was able to hit the ground running with already-established character dynamics, and was able to particularly explore Peter Quill’s past following him being reunited with his estranged father.

It might not run as smoothly as the first Guardians film, but Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 works by once again being funny, visually dazzling, well-scored with plenty of iconic music , and pushing its characters into some deeper and more emotionally intense areas. The mid-to-late 2010s were a good time to be a fan of the MCU, and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 was one of many reasons for that.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

39 'the super inframan' (1975), directed by hua shan.

The Super Inframan is fairly obscure by superhero movie standards, but that doesn’t mean it’s undeserving of being considered up there with the very best. It’s something of a cult classic, being an absurd martial arts movie that also ambitiously sets its sights on being a work of science fiction and a weird superhero film , following a man who agrees to be experimented on, so he can become the titular hero.

From there, his destiny is to battle various monsters that are being led by a dangerous alien who wants to conquer the world, effectively being the only hope for the human race. The Super Inframan is very cheesy and one would be hard-pressed to call it high-budget… yet it’s also super charming and feels a little like it was written by a 10-year-old in the best way possible. It’s the kind of movie where, while watching it, it’s hard to imagine someone not having a good time.

Rent on Apple TV

38 'X-Men' (2000)

Directed by bryan singer.

Hugh Jackman as Wolverine in the X-Men franchise

Standing as an introduction for many (though not all) to the X-Men franchise and the variety of characters within it, 2000’s X-Men was a landmark film for the superhero genre. X-Men balanced a wide variety of heroes and villains with superpowers, showing how best to execute this kind of movie with an ensemble cast, allowing everyone to shine and establishing plenty of memorable character dynamics.

Perhaps it all looks and feels a bit quaint by today’s standards, but the original live-action X-Men movie was a big deal when released at the start of the 21st century. Beyond introducing characters, it also tells a compelling story of heroic mutants battling evil ones for the fate of the world, and paved the way for many sequels/spin-offs/reboots to continue the series, and sometimes even surpass this initial film .

37 'Super' (2010)

Vigilante the Crimson Bolt wields a shotgun while dressed in a red superhero costume in the streets at night.

Some years before ever working for Marvel or DC, James Gunn directed his first superhero movie (of sorts) with Super , in 2010. It’s definitely more low-budget and crudely made compared to his later efforts, but it did demonstrate that he had serious potential in both writing and directing subversive or slightly offbeat films that also managed to fit within the superhero genre.

In the case of Super , it’s incredibly dark and brutally realistic, telling the story of a disturbed man with nothing to lose becoming a vigilante known as Crimson Bolt. Super is unafraid to show some seriously graphic violence, especially considering Crimson Bolt’s weapon of choice is a wrench, but those with strong stomachs and a willingness to see something different as far as superhero/vigilante movies go ought to check it out.

36 'Captain America: Civil War' (2016)

Directed by anthony and joe russo.

Tom Holland as Spider-Man with Captain America's shield in Captain America Civil War

The third movie within one of the most compelling trilogies in the MCU , Captain America: Civil War is a huge film featuring many of the characters who appeared throughout the first three phases of the MCU. As the title suggests, the heroes are at odds and are torn apart by a series of conflicts that may have been orchestrated by a mastermind who wants to see Earth's mightiest heroes implode.

Captain America: Civil War was a movie that did a good job of shaking up the status quo , with the effects of the film's ending ultimately having an influence on several years worth of movies that followed. Additionally, this movie's also home to one of the biggest and most celebrated action sequences in the entire MCU: that of the airport battle.

Captain America: Civil War


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    A Hero. Glenn Kenny January 22, 2022. Tweet. Now streaming on: Powered by JustWatch. Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi crafts engrossing, nagging moral tales without stooping to overt moralizing. Eric Rohmer did the same but set his subtle parables in the provinces of romance and sex. Even Farhadi's 2011 marriage drama, " A Separation ...

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    A Hero: Directed by Asghar Farhadi. With Amir Jadidi, Mohsen Tanabandeh, Sahar Goldoost, Fereshteh Sadre Orafaiy. Rahim is in prison because of a debt he was unable to repay. During a two-day leave, he tries to convince his creditor to withdraw his complaint against the payment of part of the sum. But things don't go as planned.

  20. A Hero (2021)

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