Mark Reviews Movies

THE KITE RUNNER

3 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Marc Forster

Cast: Khalid Abdalla, Homayon Ershadi, Zekeria Ebrahimi, Ahmad Khan Mahmidzada, Shaun Toub, Atossa Leoni

MPAA Rating:  (for strong thematic material including the rape of a child, violence and brief strong language)

Running Time: 2:02

Release Date: 12/14/07 (limited)


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Review by Mark Dujsik

Screened at the 2007 Chicago International Film Festival

Boiled down to its simple core, The Kite Runner is an elongated coming-of-age story. The film spans over 20 years, three countries, and four governments (three implied by location; one depicted in scaled-down but still brutal detail), and it's full of cultural heritage, family secrets, and personal demons. Adapted from Khaled Hosseini's bestselling novel, this is a film that is upfront with its thematic implications, wearing them on its sleeve as it does its twists of fate, coincidences, and overt emotional proddings, but it's still an affecting tale in spite or because of that exposure.

My first reaction when I saw it at the Chicago International Film Festival was quite strong but still reserved. Its themes struck me deeply but something was a bit off. Upon a second viewing before its release, the film's impact lessened considerably and my reservations heightened. The Kite Runner is manipulative filmmaking, to be sure, but director Marc Forster manipulates us so well, we overlook the fact in the viewing and forgive it in the memory. It is a fine story about a complex problem of conscience, told with little grace but a nave, effective simplicity.

In San Francisco in 2000, Amir (Khalid Abdalla) returns home to find a package at his doorstep. It is a bundle of his first novel, which he opens in front of his proud wife Soraya (Atossa Leoni). Amir receives a phone call. "You should come home," the man on the other line says; "There is a way to be good again." Flash back to Kabul, 1978, where a young Amir (Zekeria Ebrahimi) is flying a kite with his friend and servant Hassan (Ahmad Khan Mahmidzada). Amir doesn't just fly his kite; he battles other kites with it. Hassan is the best kite runner in Kabul, loyally chasing down kites Amir has defeated as prizes for his friend.

Hassan admits he would eat dirt if Amir asked him to, but "why would you ask me?" he wonders. Amir's father Baba (Homayoun Ershadi), though, isn't overly impressed with his son. He lets Hassan fight his battles and never stands up for himself. There's a big kite fighting competition in the city, and after Amir defeats all comers, Hassan faithfully chases down the last kite. When he doesn't return after a while, Amir follows Hassan, only to witness his friend brutally attacked and defiled by local bullies.

Amir lives up to his father's opinion of him and does nothing to prevent it. It haunts him well into the time we first meet Amir as a grown man in the US. He starts off blaming Hassan for his own cowardice in not acting. The two stop talking (Hassan barely leaves his room), and eventually, Amir works to get Hassan kicked out of his father's house. By ridding himself of the sight of the result of his failure, Amir hopes to eliminate his feelings of weakness as well. Things work out the way Amir had hoped, but as for continuing a normal life in his homeland, the world has a way of ruining plans.

The Soviets invade in 1979, and Baba, well known for his anti-Communist talk, and Amir have to flee to Pakistan. Baba stands up to a Soviet guard at the border, paralleling Amir's inaction in a similar situation. Amir and Baba arrive in the States, and the film picks up in 1988, where Baba works at a gas station while Amir has just graduated college. Amir writes fiction. His father doesn't understand it, but, as a good man, he supports it nonetheless. Amir meets Soraya; she loves his writing. Still, Amir sits at his typewriter and hears Hassan screaming.

That scene in Amir's past has earned considerable controversy (The film's release was pushed back until the child actors could leave Afghanistan), but like the crime itself, it's about power. An upper class boy forces his power over a servant, and it leads directly into the story's present day, where the same people are unleashing power in the same way over an entire country. Amir learns his friend met his fate at the hands of the Taliban for defending his family; Hassan's son is still alive, an orphan now.

Amir returns to the Taliban-ruled Afghanistan, where he feels "like a tourist" in his own home. He witnesses children playing in the rubble of what used to be a city, a woman stoned at halftime of a soccer game, and the head of an orphanage who has to make a terrible choice: Give one child to the Taliban or face the consequences of what could happen to ten of them. In going after that one child, Amir faces up to his demons and tries to live up to the example set for him by his own father and the father of that boy.

Forster and screenwriter David Benioff are barefaced in their telling of this story, and everything is signified with its evident meaning. Still, it works. Even the last line of The Kite Runner, in which Amir uses the words of a boy's dead father to let the child know he is part of a family again, is obvious and calculating. Yes, but it's also deserved.

Copyright 2007 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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