The Kite Runner (2007) dir. Marc Forster
Starring: Khalid Abdalla, Atossa Leoni, Shaun Toub, Homayoun Ershadi, Zekeria Ebrahimi, Ahmad Khan Mahmidzada
I’ve never read the book, but according to the trailer, the film is based on “one of the most beloved stories of our time”. Talk about setting yourself up for failure. No film could ever live up to those expectations. The film succeeds in telling a compelling story of a young Afghani man’s lifelong search for redemption, but fails to give us the epic grandeur of cross-culture politics which the trailer and book promises.
Amir and Hassan are rambunctious 8 year olds living in Afghanistan in 1978, before the Soviet invasion. They are best friends whose main passion is for flying kites in a highly competitive village tournament. What separates Amir and Hassan is class. Hassan is a poor son of a servant, and Amir lives a life of upper class privalege. Despite this the two boys live and play like equals – though Amir envies Hassan’s unwavering pride and honour. When the local bullies start picking on the two boys, it’s Hassan who stands up and fights them off. Just before the invasion, a rift develops between the boys that cause Hassan and his father to leave the village. During the invasion Amir and his father flee to America to start a new life. And Hassan disappears from Amir’s life.
The film moves forward 20 years when Amir has graduated college in San Francisco and is about to begin his working life. Amir is a writer who has written a novel based on his childhood experiences in Afghanistan. He lives a comfortable life in America, but when he receives a phone call about important news of Hassan, he’s compelled to travel back to his homeland to reconcile his past.
The film is structured in two halves – Amir as a child and Amir as an adult. Youngsters Zekiria Ebrahimi and Ahmad Khan Mahmoodzada as Amir and Hassan hold the film together as they make make up half the screen time of the film. Much of the dialogue is overwritten and overly literary - Hassan, who is a poor servant’s child, speaks in metaphoric hyperbole. I can’t believe I even used the words, ‘metaphoric hyperbole’ but Hassan, who apparently can’t read, would probably understand its meaning. The coming of age story serves to establish the characters motivations, desires and frailties, but in doing so Forster and writer David Benioff create a ‘preciousness’ to this story which can be off-putting.
Once we establish Amir as privileged and Hassan as poor, knowing that the Soviet invasion was near, the second half of the film became predictable. Within this predictability though, the story is anchored by the character of Amir, whom we care for deeply. If we thought Amir was a dishonourable shit as child, when we see him as an adult in America our attitude changes. Khalid Abdalla plays the elder Amir and his courtship of his soon to be wife, Soraya, gives us the ideal bridge between Amir’s childhood culture and his new American home. His honourable respect for his family and culture changes our opinion of him. It’s probably my favourite part of the film, when Amir goes through the procedures of asking his wife’s hand in marriage (though I’d never want to have my father broker the deal as Baba does).
Unfortunately Amir’s redemption is troublesome. Knowing the effect of his cowardice as a child, we know what the third act will entail. There are some missed opportunities for greater drama and riskier decisions for Amir. When he gets the call about Hassan in Afghanistan, he makes a split second decision to leave, and his wife supports him 100%. This is too easy for Amir. He must have been accustomed to the American lifestyle therefore making a decision to infiltrate the dangerous world of the Taliban requires more courage than he’s ever had to face – something Amir hasn’t yet earned. Somewhere between being a child and being an adult he found the courage to stand up for himself and his friend. The problem is we never see this epiphany.
This brings me to the notion of an ‘epic’ film. I would rarely say this but, the film actually needed to be longer so we can see Amir’s transition in life from coward to hero. As well, Amir’s wife too easily accepts his need to go back. There’s room for conflict in this decision. Unfortunately there’s none.
The film isn’t called “The Kite Runner” for nothing. Forster crafts some remarkable “kiting” scenes involving one-on-one kite battles between kids. He shoots them with the aid of computer effects, but the thrilling chase sequences in the air are reminiscent of those Harry Potter Quiddich sequences.
So for all fans of the novel you will likely be disappointed. If it was hit and miss for me, it will likely be all misses for you. Saying all that, it was a decent night out at the movies, redeemed with a great scene near the end at the dinner table when Amir asserts his new found pride. This will certainly produce great satisfaction. Enjoy.