One of my favorite movies this year is THE KITE RUNNER, which I saw last Saturday at the AMC Loews Lincoln Square, 1998 Broadway (68th Street) on the Upper Westside. Based on the best-selling novel by KHALED HOSSEINI, the story spans from the final days of Afghanistan's monarchy to the atrocities of the Taliban reign. It is an epic tale of fathers and sons, of friendship and betrayal, an unlikely friendship develops between Amir, the son of a wealthy Afghan businessman, and Hassan, a servant to Amir and his father. During a kite-flying tournament, an unspeakable event changes the nature of their relationship forever. As an adult haunted by the childhood betrayal, Amir seeks redemption by returning to his war-torn native land to make peace with himself, reconcile his cowardice, and take the opportunity "to be good again." The wonderful cast includes Khalid Abdalla, Homayoun Ershadi, Zekiria Ebrahimi, Ahmad Khan Mahmoodzada, and Shaun Toub
Review from The New York Times (Manohla Dargis):
Much like the best-selling novel on which it’s based, “The Kite Runner” tells the story of an Afghan refugee who, long after arriving in America, sifts through memories of his cosseted childhood, his emotionally remote father, his devoted best friend, the kites they flew and the stories they shared. The back of my paperback copy of this Khaled Hosseini novel is sprinkled with words like “powerful” and “haunting” and “riveting” and “unforgettable.” It’s a good guess that this film will be rolled around in a similarly large helping of lard.
There’s another word on the back of my copy: “genuine.” The portrait of Afghan culture broadly painted by its narrator, a 38-year-old novelist known as Amir (played in the film by the Scottish-born Khalid Abdalla), certainly seems like the real deal, a sense of authenticity underscored by the book’s evocation of the Afghan diaspora in America, its descriptions of traditions and rituals and the numerous italicized words like “Kocheh-Morgha” (“Chicken Bazaar”) and “Shirini-khori” (“ ‘Eating of the Sweets’ ceremony”). That said, it is difficult to believe in the authenticity of any book (and its author) in which a born and bred Afghan narrator asks of the Taliban — as this one does in June 2001 — “Is it as bad as I hear?” David Benioff’s clumsy screenplay doesn’t broadcast its political naïveté as openly, but only because the filmmakers seem to assume that unlike the book’s readers, the movie audience doesn’t care about such matters. Mr. Benioff gestures in the direction of Communists and mullahs, the Soviet invaders and the Taliban insurgents, but none of these players figure into the story in any meaningful fashion. The director Marc Forster, following the script’s lead, scrupulously avoids politics and history — there are no causes or positions, just villains and horrors — and instead offers us a succession of atmospheric, realistic landscapes, colorful sights and smiling boys. And kites. Lots and lots of bobbing, darting, high-flying kites.
Like the recent film version of Ian McEwan’s novel “Atonement,” another story ignited by the destructive behavior of a pubescent child, “The Kite Runner” presents a world informed by a variant of original sin. In both, a child’s damaging words and deeds give way to — and seem to foreshadow and somehow even to incite — the larger violence of war. The two stories register very differently, both on the page and on screen, yet what’s curious is how each presents childhood as an already corrupted state that is redeemed only by adult grace. In these stories war becomes a kind of cleansing agent for the destructive child, who, after enduring hardships, matures into a properly contrite adult (and a fiction writer to boot).
It takes a while for that contrition to surface in “The Kite Runner.” First the adult Amir has to conjure up a leisurely flashback during which his 12-year-old self (Zekiria Ebrahimi) rushes through the dust and the exotica — past the woman in a burka and the severed animal heads — pausing to read, write and fly kites. He worships his gruff father, Baba (Homayoun Ershadi), a businessman who swills alcohol and dismisses the mullahs as “monkeys.” Amir, in turn, is adored by the illiterate servant boy Hassan (Ahmad Khan Mahmoodzada), whose father has worked for Baba his entire life. Amir loves his younger friend in his selfish fashion, but because Baba favors Hassan (if not enough to educate the boy), Amir also betrays him.
Mr. Forster, who previously directed “Monster’s Ball” and “Finding Neverland,” has been soundly defeated by “The Kite Runner.” Despite the film’s far-flung locations (it was shot primarily in China), there is remarkably little of visual interest here; the setups are banal, and the scenes lack tension, which no amount of editing can provide. With the exception of Mr. Ershadi, whom art-house audiences may remember from Abbas Kiarostami’s “Taste of Cherry,” it also lacks credible performances. The two lead child actors, both nonprofessionals, are predictably appealing, but only because they’re children. Unlike Mr. Kiarostami, who has a genius for translating the natural rhythms of nonprofessional performers to the screen, who siphons real life and bottles it, Mr. Forster never makes you believe in these children or their woes.
In both novel and film form, “The Kite Runner” recounts a simple yet shrewd story about that favorite American pastime: self-improvement. Amir’s childhood mistake isn’t a careless juvenile offense; it’s a human stain that must be scrubbed out through self-abnegation, confession and personal transformation. Yet, watching this film, you are left to wonder whom precisely is all this suffering for — is it for Amir? Hassan? Afghanistan? Or do Hassan and the story’s other sad children — especially those hollow-eyed boys and girls glimpsed during the preposterous climax in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan — suffer because it’s possible to package other people’s pain and turn it into a commercial diversion? It’s no surprise that for all its foreign trappings, “The Kite Runner” tells the same old comforting story. We wouldn’t have it any other way.
The Kite Runner” is rated PG-13 (Parents strongly cautioned). There is a discreetly shot if entirely unnecessary scene of a child’s rape and an extended bloody fight involving punches and a slingshot.