THE KITE RUNNER
Review by James Berardinelli, ReelViews.net
When a movie is made based on a book that millions of people have read, the first question asked often pertains to the faithfulness of the resultant cinematic product to its written inspiration. In the case of The Kite Runner, director Marc Forster and screenwriter David Benioff have taken pains to provide the best screen representation possible of Khaled Hosseini’s best-selling novel. Time constraints have forced some changes and contractions but, on the whole, it’s hard to imagine a more effective and affecting adaptation. The Kite Runner touches the heart and the mind—something increasingly rare in any movie not made with the express intention of winning Oscars. (The Kite Runner, it should be mentioned, will be in the running in several categories.)
As the many who have read the book are aware, this is a tale of betrayal, cowardice, and redemption. It’s about a boy who commits a terrible injustice but is given an opportunity as a man to redress his sins in a direct way. Would that all of us were provided with such a chance.... (Although, to be fair, most of our iniquities pale in comparison with those displayed in The Kite Runner.) The film shows the amazing capacity human beings have both to harm and to heal. By setting this in pre-9/11 Afghanistan, the production provides the viewer with a gut-level perspective of how repressive the Taliban was.
The film begins in the era before the Russian invasion of Afghanistan. Boyhood friends Amir and Hassan are inseparable despite their class differences—Amir is the son of a wealthy landowner and Hassan is the son of a servant. Such things matter little to the boys. However, Amir’s father, Baba, is concerned about his son. He sees in Amir a child who will not stand up for himself or what is right. Hassan, however, will not back down despite his diminutive size. Baba’s concerns are proven valid when Amir sees an act of violence perpetrated on Hassan by local bullies, but does not act. Later, he seeks to relieve the guilt not by seeking forgiveness but by acting deceitfully to get Hassan dismissed from his father’s service.
More than 20 years later, the adult Amir is a newly-minted author living in California with his wife, Soraya. He receives a call from an old friend who urges him to return to Afghanistan. Amir is initially reluctant but eventually agrees. What he learns when he arrives not only shakes the steady foundations of his sense of family but forces him to undertake a risky mission as a way of repaying his debt to Hassan, who never once blamed Amir for turning his back.
One of the great strengths of The Kite Runner is that it doesn’t fake or sugarcoat anything. It doesn’t demand a leap of faith to accept these characters and their circumstances, and the emotional journey of Amir is something that, at its core, is easily related to. Guilt and redemption are universal themes, and they are handled in a manner that even cynics will find compelling. The movie is not littered with perfect victims—every character harbors shades of gray—and sentiment is kept to a minimum. The Kite Runner is a well-told story, not an exercise in manipulation. That’s one thing that differentiates it from many high profile motion pictures working with similar themes.
For the most part, the young actors are working on their first project in front of the camera, and their performances are without awkwardness or artifice. The older performers have more substantive resumes, although many will be unfamiliar to U.S. viewers. Khailid Abdalla was one of the terrorists in United 93 and Shaun Toub has provided supporting portrayals in a number of movies and TV programs. From an acting perspective, the standout is Homayon Ershadi, whose interpretation of Baba humanizes and softens the character from his counterpart in the book. It’s a forceful and moving portrayal and, if any acting nominations emerge from The Kite Runner, Ershadi would be the most likely.
Verisimilitude is a key attribute in The Kite Runner. While circumstances prevented filming from taking place in the country, Marc Forster utilized Chinese locations that are virtually indistinguishable from their Afghanistan counterparts. The Kite Runner establishes a distinct place and time, enveloping the viewer and drawing him (or her) in. The overall experience is immersive. At times brutal, at times touching, the movie stands out as one of the better “prestige” productions offered for cinematic consumption during the waning weeks of 2007.