The Kite Runner (2007)


(director: Marc Forster; screenwriter: David Benioff; cinematographer: Roberto Schaefer; editor: Matt Chesse; music: Alberto Iglesias; cast: Khalid Abdalla (Amir), Homayon Ershadi (Baba), Zekeria Ebrahimi (Amir as a child), Ahmad Khan Mahmidzada (Hassan as a child), Shaun Toub (Rahim Kahn), Nabi Tanha (Ali), Ali Dinesh (Sohrab), Saïd Taghmaoui (Farid), Atossa Leoni (Soraya), Abdul Qadir Farookh (General Taher), Maimoona Ghizal (Jamila), Abdul Salam Yusoufzai (Assef), Elham Ehsas (Young Assef); Runtime: 122; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producers: E. Bennett Walsh/William Horberg/Rebecca Yeldham; Paramount Classics and DreamWorks; 2007-in English and Afghani with some English subtitles)

“Well-intentioned but hardly convincing depiction of the haunting Afghanistan landscape… .”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Well-intentioned but hardly convincing depiction of the haunting Afghanistan landscape (filmed in the mountainous region of China bordering Afghanistan) over the last three decades. Melodramatic filmmaker Marc Forster (“Finding Neverland”/”Monster’s Ball”) and writer David Benioff faithfully adapt in a condensed form author Khaled Hosseini’s acclaimed bestselling novel about life in Afghanistan following the fall of the Taliban but somehow fail to do it justice. It was passable as mere emotional fluff until the terrible third act, which has one of the most unconvincing escape scenes ever in the movies and follows that up with a corny family reunion that is to boot poorly acted.

The film opens in 2000 in San Francisco and there’s immediately a flashback to 1978 in Kabul. The 12-year-old Amir (Zekeria Ebrahimi) and his 12-year-old best friend and protector, the illiterate Hassan (Ahmad Khan Mahmidzada), the son of the loyal servant of Amir’s wealthy, sophisticated and understanding father, Baba (Homayoun Ershadi), win as the best kite runners in Kabul. The contest calls for flying the brightly colored kites across town and “cutting” the highest number of competitors’ strings until the last one is standing. But three older boys, led by the bully Assef (Elham Ehsas), angry that Hassan is a member of the minority, a Hazara, not like him or Amir a Pashtun, which translates to being in the majority and a so-called real Afghani, beat the saintly Hassan and rape him in an alley while the cowardly Amir just watches–a scene that haunts Amir with guilt for the rest of his life. In the 1980s the Russians invade and like many of the most educated in Kabul, Baba and Amir flee the country. We follow the widowed Baba, whose wife died during childbirth for Amir, living now in Freemont, California and working as a gas-station attendant. The grown Amir (Khalid Abdalla) is a community college grad and an aspiring writer, wishing to tell of his childhood experience in Kabul. The quiet Amir falls in love with the daughter (Atossa Leoni) of a former Afghan general (Abdul Qadir Farookh), and in an arranged marriage weds her in a traditional ceremony. Amir’s father passes away, and we skip again to 2000 to learn that Amir has just published a book. But instead of going on a book tour, he’s off to Pakistan when called by Hassan’s father about an emergency situation. There he learns that Hassan was executed by the Taliban and further digests some dark secrets from the past that connects him to Hassan in a deeper way than he ever thought possible. Amir puts on a fake beard and goes with a driver to Taliban-controlled Kabul to honor Hassan’s father’s request to rescue from an orphanage Sohrab–the son of Hassan. It’s Amir’s chance to be “good again.” At the orphanage Amir discovers that Sohrab is being held as a sex slave by the Taliban and that it’s the bully Assef (Abdul Salam Yusoufzai) who is the Taliban official confronting him (if that isn’t a contrived setup, then I don’t know what is!). After a miraculous Hollywood-like escape, Amir takes the sullen Sohrab back home to San Francisco and the kid fulfills a need in the couple’s childless marriage. In the last scene, Sohrab’s new stepfather takes him out to the bay for some lessons in kite running and we are in for some mushy lyrical symbolic moments of connecting kites with the bittersweet memories from his childhood. Nostalgia for the good old days of kite running and merely coping with childhood bullies is crunched out on the screen with almost a sense of vulgarity, as the filmmaker conveniently ignores exploring things more vital to our understanding of the Afghanis such as class differences, the immense poverty, the way women are treated and insights into the stern Afghan culture and its almost feudal ways.

The last act feels rushed, awkwardly constructed, and is drained of any real emotion, and leaves the film feeling just not right. It’s as if it wanted in the end to be like a Steve McQueen action-thriller and the filmmaker wasn’t confident enough in his own storytelling ability to let its tale unfold in more natural terms. Its political points are made in a perfunctory manner, and the boy rape scene, though tastefully done for a Hollywood film, is nevertheless big trouble for the Afghan children involved–leaving serious questions about the Hollywood studio being exploiters. More than likely there would be repercussions in the extremist climate in today’s Kabul if the school children, all non-actors, did not escape before the film was released. That’s the reason given for the film’s release date being delayed, so the children could finish their school year.