I’m not someone who cries easily. So when I do, and when I feel like it’s because of some heavy-handed movie making, I get a little embarrassed and a little upset. While I was teary more than once during The Kite Runner, I was very conscious that even though the story was both touching and horrifying, I was being played a little bit as well.
When a movie is built-up as much as The Kite Runner is before it’s released, the potential for disappointment is always high. Film adaptations of widely-popular books are notoriously hit or miss. Add to that the press coverage around concerns for the child actors’ safety and the subsequent change of the release date and you have a whole lot of buzz to live up to.
The Kite Runner
Having never read the book, I had few concrete expectations of the film other than my sister’s comment halfway through, ”Just when you think it can’t get any worse, it does.” She wasn’t kidding.
The Kite Runner spans the troubled childhood and early adulthood of two Afghan men. Young Amir (Zekeria Ebrahimi) and Hassan (Ahmad Khan Mahmidzada) are best friends, but their relationship is complicated by class structure — Hassan’s father works for Amir’s family. Despite their bond, Amir witnesses a brutal act committed against Hassan and does nothing to prevent it. Unable to handle the guilt, Amir eventually drives Hassan and his father away.
Shortly thereafter, when the Russians invade Afghanistan, Amir and his father (Homayoun Ershadi) emigrate to California where, many years later, adult Amir (Khalid Abdalla) gets a call summoning him back: Hassan’s son needs help. It’s at this point that The Kite Runner falters, changing from a character-driven, highly emotional film to a pseudo-adventure flick. Dodging bullets and fighting with slingshots feels too hokey after the first two hours of methodical plot development.
After hearing that Abdalla and Mahmidzada had to be removed from Afghanistan for fear that the film would incite violence against them, one wonders why they risked it in the first place. Thank goodness they did — they are the heart and soul of the movie. Both perform beautifully, capturing your heart only moments before it’s broken. Mahmiszada does an exceptionally fine job as the young Hassan, loyal to the end.
Shot in China to replicate the desolate scenes in Afghanistan under the rule of the Taliban, the cinematography is stunning. Even better is the natural beauty of the intricate flying scenes, aerial wars between the bright, colorful kites. Who knew kite flying could be so exciting?
Director Marc Forster knows how to get a reaction from his audience — he directed Finding Neverland and Monster’s Ball after all. Even as I was blinking the tears away, I was thinking, ”This is the point where I’m supposed to be getting emotional.” It’s blatant and effective all at the same time. There’s a fine line between cheesy and emotional and Forster keeps it just on this side of emotional.
The one storyline that is touching and simply just wonderful is the relationship between Amir and his father, Baba. Though our introduction to Baba comes when he’s lamenting the cowardly nature of his son, he dedicates his entire life to making sure Amir has everything possible. It’s the one heartwarming section of the film that helps remind us that there is goodness despite all the other evil that takes place.
Much of the history of Afghanistan and the complexity of the country’s history is boiled down to the basics to fit in the film. Forster does a great job of conveying enough historical context into the film — mostly through subtitles — to keep even the most novice viewer informed.
It would be so easy to rave about The Kite Runner with all sorts of flying analogies like, ”It soars to new cinematic heights,” but it would be hyperbole. It’s a good movie, yes, but it’s not a great movie.