REVIEW: The Kite Runner [2007]

“There is a way to be good again”

Director Marc Forster once again shows that he will not be pigeonholed into a genre. After doing family, drama, comedy, and thriller, he has decided to do foreign-language with his adaptation of The Kite Runner. Khaled Hosseini’s acclaimed novel has been on my list to read, collecting dust on my bookshelf, but I never really knew what it was about. Sure you see in the trailer that two former childhood friends part ways and the one in America must go back to Kabul to retrieve the others’ son, however, that is not even a quarter of the tale at hand. This is a story of finding oneself amidst political strife and personal feelings. The friendship of these two boys is of the strongest bond possible, leading to the necessity for one to shut out the other from his life. Sometimes love can be a driving force in pushing someone away. By no means is this film a feel good story, nor is it easily accessible for most Americans, as it is about 90% in Middle Eastern languages, but it is one that deserves to be seen and experienced, as it truly is powerful, heartbreaking, and also hopeful for the future.

Let’s just say I cancelled my vacation to Afghanistan about halfway through. What at first is shown as a beautiful country is later shown as the warzone it has become—trees all cut down by the invading Russians and buildings and roads demolished from the fighting by the Taliban. It is a nice breath of fresh air to hear anti-Taliban sentiment be so prevalent what with most films these days trying to show how wonderful the Middle East would be if the US wasn’t entrenched there. Sure there are references to the fact that the country has never taken kindly to strangers and that they always find themselves driven out, but it show a lot of the horrors that were occurring before 9/11 brought our nation back to the Middle East. To see how people looked upon the politics and tenuous control their own people had on their country through their own eyes is very interesting and adds to the realism of setting, helping flesh out the more personal tale at the heart of the film.

Two boys, one of aristocratic status and the other a Hazara servant, are best friends and inseparable. Young Amir is a quiet intellectual who never gets involved in conflict. Whenever violence arrives, his companion Hassan always comes to the rescue. A boy without formal education, he lives through the stories and imagination of his friend and boss’s son, becoming rich with ideas and experiences for which his social status won’t allow him to have for real. In payment, Hassan will do anything to protect Amir, whether fighting or going where he shouldn’t, he is his bodyguard for lack of a better word. These boys are just too young to really comprehend the prejudice and racism going on in their country. When confronting older boys, bigoted towards the Hazara, these friends treat them as normal bullies, not as the monsters they have been brought up to be. Much like Palestinians and Israelis are brought up to hate each other, these Afghanis are raised to not accept this lower class as equals. As a result, a key moment in their lives changes the young boys forever. In a stand of defiance for his friend, Hassan is raped as Amir looks on, unable to help, torn between his class status and his humanity. This results in him thinking he has committed the greatest crime imaginable, in the words of his father, theft. His unflinching acceptance of Hassan’s devotion has in effect stolen the boy’s innocence from him. By standing and doing nothing as he was molested, Amir could do only one thing now, let his friend go. As long as they were together, Hassan would always let harm come to himself before his friend and Amir could not let himself be the cause for that much pain.

It is a powerful bond and after seeing the boys onscreen for so long, it is quite jarring to then continue the tale in America as Amir grows up with his father and eventually gets married. He was fortunate to get out of his country during its harshest years and makes the life for himself that he always wanted. Only when he receives a call, requesting his return home, does he understand the full weight of what happened those many years earlier. It is easy to let pain go and continue on like nothing occurred, it is completely different to be able to stand up and accept responsibility, allowing your heritage and past to come back and make amends for mistakes made. There are many twists and turns, as well as startling revelations that show face throughout, slowly exposing more to the story and allowing the strength that has been hidden inside Amir for so long to rise to the surface.

Forster does a great job crafting this tale from its many locales across four decades. The visuals are stunning and never static, allowing all the actors to take front stage and do their thing. I loved the kite scenes and the joy Kabul had for the flying contests. You know that it is all computer-generated, but nonetheless believe it is all real. Much of that realism can be credited to the two young actors as Amir and Hassan, Zekeria Ebrahimi and Ahmad Khan Mahmidzada respectively. These boys are fantastic throughout, selling the bond completely and portraying their breakup perfectly, as a result of a “stolen” watch. Homayoun Ershadi, as Amir’s father, and his friend played by Shaun Toub are also remarkable. Ershadi, evolving from his relocation to America, has a couple scenes that are emotionally strong and unforgettable.

With Afghan customs displayed at all times and the inner turmoil involving our lead character Amir, I thought of another film from earlier this year with similar themes, The Namesake. While not as good as that Indian film, The Kite Runner has the same weight and ability to draw the audience into this world, foreign even to those who grew up there. Amir’s journey is traveled as much inside himself as it is across the span from America to the Middle East. Forster has once again given me a spectacular cinema experience, touching on themes that he hadn’t in the films preceding it. His selection as director of the next Bond film is an inspired choice, and I for one can’t wait to see what he does with it.

The Kite Runner 8/10 | ★ ★ ★

[1] Ahmad Khan Mahmoodzada as “Hassan” and Zekiria Ebrahimi as “Amir” star in Marc Forster’s “The Kite Runner”. Copyright: Motion Picture Artwork, Photos © 2007 DREAMWORKS LLC and KITE RUNNER HOLDINGS, LLC. All Rights Reserved. Photo by Phil Bray
[2] Khalid Abdalla as “Amir” stars in Marc Forster’s “The Kite Runner”. Copyright: Motion Picture Artwork, Photos © 2007 DREAMWORKS LLC and KITE RUNNER HOLDINGS, LLC. All Rights Reserved. Photo by Phil Bray


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