Based upon the novel by Khaled Hosseini, "The Kite Runner" is the latest effort from director Marc Forster, whose projects have varied from films like "Finding Neverland" to "Kite Runner" to the next "James Bond" movie. The film focuses on Amir (Zekiria Ebrahimi) and Hassan (Ahmad Khan Mahmoodzada), two young boys growing up in Afghanistan in the late 70's. The two are very different in terms of personality and class.
I had reservations about this film when I saw the previews. They looked somewhat sentimental for a story that is rich with depth and conflict. As the story began, I feared my initial thoughts were going to be true, as the story opens with a somewhat made-for-television feel, highlighted by clunky dialogue. Thankfully, once the story turns to the past and begins the story of two young friends in a time where such a friendship was founded on odds, the picture took flight.
Amir and Hassan play like any young children, but their story is different from so many that came before. Hassan, Amir’s family servant proves his loyalty to Amir daily by protecting him, proclaiming he’d rather eat dirt than lie to his good friend, and running after cut kites. A scene where children gather on rooftops and in the streets to fly kites, using their skills to cut competitors kites from the sky, is magnificent and a true wonder to behold. Hassan runs after the kites, always knowing where they will fall, even when others run the other way. Always for Amir. The boy’s friendship is a complicated one, not only due to class, but because Amir cannot seem to bring himself to respect and care for Hassan as much as Hassan cares for him. But their moments together when no one else is around are beautiful, simple and reveal a deep friendship.
During the first half of the film we’re introduced to Amir’s father, Baba (Homayoun Ershadi) and his close friend, Rahim Khan (Shaun Toub). We learn that Baba sees his son as weak, and with his words, “A boy who won’t stand up for himself, becomes a man that wont stand up for anything,” we sense that this is what the movie is about–the road to becoming a man who will fight for those he loves and for himself.
Ershadi gives an amazing performance that only grows throughout the film as he transforms from a wealthy man to a gas station attendant in America. Toub also gives a wonderful performance, but I can’t help but feel that more time between Amir and him would have benefit the movie, especially the second half. After all, Amir credits Rahim Khan with his desire to become a writer, a dream he ultimately achieves.
The true pain of the story begins early on after Amir cuts the final kite, a victory that turns to heartache. Hassan runs the final fallen kite for Amir, and when bullies corner him, asking him for the kite in exchange for being let go without any violence, Hassan refuses. His refusal leads to a horrific act that Amir witnesses, once again from a distance without stepping in to save his friend. Once the act occurs, the relationship between Amir and Hassan is forever changed. Amir can’t process his anger in himself and the situation he witnessed and he begins to lash out against Hassan, who remains forever faithful to his friend. Amir eventually plants his watch in Hassan’s room, hoping to get him in trouble and Hassan admits to stealing the watch despite his innocence.
It’s these kinds of scenes that make this movie painful to watch. You want to shout at Amir, you want to comfort Hassan, but you know only time will bring resolution to their broken childhood. As time progresses, Hassan and his father leave Baba and Amir to find work elsewhere and the Soviet Invasion quickly changes everyone’s lives. After Baba and Amir escape to America, we’re introduced to new characters, including Soraya (Atossa Leoni ) who Amir falls in love with. America brings change, but the life they left behind continues to haunt who they are and who they are trying to become. Not long after we’re introduced to life in America, we are brought back to where the film began–with a phone call from Rahim Khan. He wants Amir to come back, as there is something he needs to do to “be good again.”
The last half of the film, when Amir returns home is extremely difficult to watch. It’s full of tension, heartache and unexpected sadness. Amir goes to Pakistan to learn of Hassan’s fate. This is where Amir must learn to be brave, to fight for those who he couldn’t fight for before. He must risk his life, disguise himself and enter shaky territory to find the missing piece that his life needs to be free from the past once and for all.
While the film isn’t without flaws, it is a pleasure to watch, a story to remember. The performances are powerful and subtle, especially Mahmoodzada and Ebrahimi. They carry the film effortlessly, and provide the right amount of emotion without appearing over-the-top. Forster does a suburb job capturing the change in scenery as well as character. This is a film that takes some time to get moving, but once it does it will capture your heart and leave you hoping for the best.
VIDEO: "Kite Runner" is presented by Dreamworks in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. The presentation by Paramount does handle the gritty looking film pretty well. Sharpness and detail vary a little bit at times and the film can look a touch soft and occasionally slightly grainy, but this seems to be the intentional look of the cinematography. No edge enhancement or artifacting is spotted, and the elements used appeared clean. The film's subdued color palette looked accurately presented, with no smearing or other faults. Overall, this was not a dazzling presentation, but it handles the material well.
SOUND: The film's Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is largely dialogue-driven, but during outdoor scenes, the rear speakers do provide some minor ambience. Audio quality was fine, with crisp dialogue and a full, rich score.
EXTRAS: Commentary from director Marc Forster, author Khaled Hosseini and screenwriter David Benioff, "Words From the Kite Runner" featurette, "Images From the Kite Runner" featurette, PSA and trailers.
Final Thoughts: "The Kite Runner" gets a fine presentation on DVD, with a very enjoyable set of supplemental features and good audio/video quality. Recommended.
The Film B+