Film review: The Kite Runner ****

2008-03-03 00:00

MARC Forster is a director who, in a mere six years, has an impressive collection of films to his name. Since 2001, the European filmmaker has been at the helm of acclaimed dramas such as Monster’s Ball and Finding Neverland. His latest offering — an adaptation of Khaled Hosseini’s best-selling novel The Kite Runner — is perhaps his finest.

It’s a decade-spanning story about two Afghan boys who grow up during the 1970s. The young Amir (Zekiria Ebrahimi) is raised under the guidance of his widowed father, a respected but emotionally distant intellectual. Amir looks to the eternally loyal and courageous family servant Hassan (Ahmad Khan Mahmidzada) for companionship, and the two spend their days enjoying their favourite past time: combat kite-flying.

The boys’ friendship undergoes a profound upheaval when Hassam is cornered and raped one afternoon by the regular neighbourhood bullies, while Amir watches from a dark corner, too afraid to intervene. Unable to understand or confide in anyone about the horror he has witnessed, the only outlet for Amir’s angst is towards his best friend Hassam. It is not long after he conspires to get his best friend kicked out of the house that Amir and his father are forced to go on the run from Russian invaders, and they flee in a harrowing escape to Pakistan.

They eventually end up in San Francisco during the ’80s, where a community of Afghan refugees makes their living at a local flea market. It’s here that a now grown Amir (played by United 93’s Khalid Abdalla) meets his future wife Soraya (Atossa Leoni), the daughter of a respected Afghan general. Amir weds and at the launch of his first book (he always had a knack for story-telling), Amir receives a phone call from one of his father’s friends asking him to return to the country of his birth. As he arrives, he is confronted with an eye-opening truth about his old friend Hassan and his own father, as well as his hometown.

It’s an emotionally rich story, with stellar performances from the adult and child actors, who first received attention when they were shipped out of Afghanistan over concerns about being targeted by religious extremists for participating in the film’s rape scene.

But most refreshingly, The Kite Runner is not another U.S. and Afghan conflict story. While the book lends itself to being a more emotive personal narrative of Amir, the film is by no means dead-pan without it. It’s one of the most engaging character studies to arrive at cinemas in years. ****

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