Translating a literary page-turner into a cinematic seat-warmer is a big ask. "It's not as good as the book" will be the inevitable mutter. But a film must stand in its own right, and The Kite Runner certainly does that.
Set against the backdrop of Afghanistan's turbulent recent history, The Kite Runner tells the story of a friendship between two boys, Amir and Hassan, forged in 1970s Kabul. Torn apart by an horrific trail of events and ultimately betrayal by Amir following the boys' victory in Kabul's annual kite flying contest, their lives are destined to follow two very different paths — Amir fleeing to America from the Russian invasion and Hassan remaining under the iron fist of Taliban rule. Driven by the need for redemption, Amir eventually returns to Afghanistan 20 years on to right the wrongs of that day, as he discovers "there is a way to be good again" — the film's tagline.
The central premise that there's always time to redeem yourself is universally resonant, and director Marc Foster (Finding Neverland, Monster's Ball) does a great job of conveying that message in a hard-hitting yet thought-provoking manner. Stories of past and present overlap seamlessly, and the location shots are just exquisite. But what really stands out is the performance of the central characters. Taken from a mix of established actors (the grown-up Amir is played by Khalid Abdalla of United 93 fame) and Afghan children with no screen experience, they conspire to suspend disbelief with consummate ease. Indeed, it's the delicate portrayal and touching poignancy of the friendship between the young Amir and Hassan — both acting for the first time — that makes the ensuing events even more harrowing for the viewer.
The only thing stopping The Kite Runner being an out-and-out five-star review is the unavoidable misgivings that spring from it being a US-made film. While there's no gratuitous violence in the later scenes involving the Taliban, the uneasy feeling you're being drawn in by American propaganda does occasionally sneak into your mind. Then, of course, there's the ending. Watch the film and you'll see what we mean. It's still not enough to stop The Kite Runner being one of the best films we've seen this year, though, and a definite Awards contender. In fact, we may even go on to read the book…
SECOND OPINION | Cassam Looch ***½ The author Khaled Hosseini’s novel based on some first-hand experiences is hardly a cheery tale. Split in two, the first half is a wonderfully realised depiction of childhood innocence shattered by events of both global and personal resonance. The second half tries hard to deliver the redemption prompted by earlier events; however, here the story falls short as the central protagonist (an extension of the writer) is given the sort of Hollywood ending that can ruin a film. Thankfully there is so much impact from the early exchanges, largely due to superb performances from the young cast, that the film will stay with you for a long time.
Novelist Amir is forced to confront his own past and childhood when his latest book is released. As he reflects on his own mistakes we see a childhood bond broken by Amir’s jealousy and lies against the backdrop of a brutal Soviet invasion and subsequent Taliban led resistance. Having escaped the horrors with his stoic and principled father, Amir makes a new life for himself in America, but a phone call out of the blue gives him a chance to go back.
Let’s start off with where the film fails. The confused and biased pro-American politics of the writer is impossible to ignore, and means that any reasonable debate about the situation in the country goes flying out of the window. This is the Afghanistan the Washington neo-cons would love to publicise where the evil Russians end up being succeeded by the even more evil Taliban. Khaled Hosseini presents a dangerous revisionist picture where the fact that the resistance (comprising of the Taliban as well as others) are banished as a footnote. Its worth noting that even in the films context the story conveniently shifts from Afghanistan to America just as the opportunity to give an honest account of life under occupation presents itself.
As I’ve said however maybe the over analysing of political nuances is unfair, certainly the opening of the film deserves better. The energetic and wholehearted zest with which the director and young cast tackle the nostalgic innocence of the story is wonderful, and special praise must also go to Ershadi as Amir’s fearless and imposing father. Its fair to say that this section of the movie is up there with the best of the year, and even though it falls apart thanks to the convenient coincidences later on, the emotional punch will leave you winded for a long time to come. A memorable if politically flawed emotional epic.
• Official Site
• The Kite Runner at IMDb