- Rated PG-13
- Buy the BD
All photos © Paramount Vantage
Reviewed by Bob Westal
n the 19th and early 20th century, the British engaged in four colonial wars in Afghanistan and ruled much of the country for decades. Half a century later, England’s succeeding superpower bankrolled a heroic but often savage war against Soviet invaders in Afghanistan (as discussed in the affable, if partially whitewashed, “Charlie Wilson’s War”), and later invaded the country when some of those same revolutionaries staged the most devastating terrorist strike in world history on Sept. 11, 2001. But who cares about history, even the recent, urgently relevant kind? It took a surprise international mega-bestseller to get Western filmmakers to even consider making a mainstream film from an Afghan point of view.
“The Kite Runner” is the tale of the redemption of Amir (Khalid Abdalla, “United 93”), a Northern California writer who, as a child growing up in Afghanistan before the 1978 invasion, betrays and abandons his closest friend. It is the childhood friendship of the young Amir (played as a boy by Zekiria Ebrahimi) and Hassan (Ahmad Khan Mahmoodzada) that forms the core of both the original novel by Khaled Hosseini, and the movie – and that’s where the trouble starts in both versions.
In real-world terms, the casting of two Afghan boys led to accusations of potentially life-threatening consequences for one of the non-actor stars, because of an implied rape scene and the complex and taboo nature of the act in Afghan culture. On a dramatic level, while first-time novelist Khaled Hosseini’s book enchanted millions, this sometimes coldhearted critic couldn’t make it past page 70. Hosseini’s competent, dryly earnest writing style simply did not allow me to get past the fact that his narrator/protagonist is, as a youngster at least, a supercilious coward who is sadistically cruel to his best friend. I had to reluctantly agree to his father’s equally callous assertion that there was “something missing” in the son, and also the book.
At first, I was tempted to write off the film as well, and it is initially somewhat rough going with our unlikable young protagonist. It certainly doesn’t help that director Marc Forster weighs his movie down with too much syrupy music by Alberto Iglesias and sometimes too-pretty CGI-enhanced photography by Roberto Schaefer. Still, it all eventually comes together. Hosseini’s story, via a solid adaptation by David Benioff (“25th Hour”), really possesses a raw power which ultimately had this skeptic sniffling away through the film’s increasingly moving and gripping events, as Amir leaves Afghanistan, becomes closer to his father (Homayoun Ershadi), finds traditionally approved married love with the pretty daughter of a haughty ex-general (Atossa Leoni), and eventually puts himself in harm’s way to save the son of his long-ago friend from the grip of a sexually abusive Taliban thug. (Ironically enough, the tale in some ways mirrors the often-filmed pro-Imperialist tale of redemption, “The Four Feathers” set during one of the Anglo-Afghan wars.)
This is a movie I found myself wanting to dislike, but thanks to a primal story that successfully short circuits most rational thought, and a pair of winning performances by young Ahmad Khan Mahmoodzada as the heartbreakingly loyal Hassan and veteran Homayoun Ershadi as the hero’s initially distant father, the heart simply overrules the brain, and dry eyes become impossible.
Single-Disc Blu-Ray Review:
Along with commentary by director Marc Forster, screenwriter David Benioff, and novelist Khaled Hosseini, the Blu-ray release of “The Kite Runner” features a pair of short documentaries, “Words from the Kite Runner” and “Images from the Kite Runner.” They do a fair job of imparting some basic information on the genesis of Hosseini’s book and the production of the film – particularly Foster’s admittedly gutsy decision to film “The Kite Runner” largely in the Dari dialect – but it's still some pretty dull stuff, avoiding the behind-the-scenes controversy and anything else interesting. Additionally, the Blu-ray offers very little other than an HD version of the trailer and a video transfer that's only slightly better than its DVD counterpart.