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STUDIO: DreamWorks Video
RUNNING TIME: 128 minutes
• Audio commentary with Marc Forster, David Benioff, Khaled Hosseini
• Words from The Kite Runner
• Images from The Kite Runner
• Theatrical trailer
Let’s humanize all those people that we’re bombing over there in Afghanistan.
Starring Khalid Abdalla, Atossa Leoni, Shaun Toub, Sayed Jafar Masihullah Gharibzada, Igbal Theba, Ahmad Khan Mahmoodzada
Written by David Benioff
Directed by Marc Forster
Amir (Abdalla) and his father escaped Afghanistan when the Soviets invaded Kabul, ending up in America, where Amir lives a good life, going to college, the whole American dream thing. When he gets a phone call from an old mentor (Toub) asking him to come back home to do what’s right, we’re transported back to 1974 when Amir was just a kid whose best friend Hassan (Mahmoodzada) was the son of Amir’s father’s servant. Their friendship takes a tragic turn and Amir goes back to Afghanistan to try to right that wrong.
Somehow I managed to avoid this movie when it first came out with all sorts of fanfare. Being based on a beloved, bestselling book of the same name, The Kite Runner never ended up being the Oscar-bait that DreamWorks hoped it would be. It has the pedigree that the Academy digs: director Marc Forster who had an awards hit on his hands with Finding Neverland; a promising writer in David Benioff (25th Hour); and a timely story told mainly in
Arabic Persian with English subtitles, perhaps happily confusing voters that this was actually a foreign film. But all those same things also can be explanations for why the film wasn’t nearly the hit that they thought it would be.
Having time away from the hype and not ever hearing this movie mentioned amongst those films that you should still see even after all these years, I never felt much pull to pop this one into the DVD player, even though part of me wondered if it would surprise me. After all, the book was a phenomenon and I find myself interested by the whole Afghanistan quagmire. Now that I’ve seen it, I have to say, about one-third of this movie is excellent, two-thirds is decent, and the final third is abysmal. This is one of those movies that introduces us awkwardly to present day characters only to have one of them pick up the phone to hear an old familiar voice and then we’re immediately thrust back in time to a different world entirely when this guy was a kid. Framing devices can be useful but, in this case, when the strength of the film is truly in the past with these amazing child actors, Forster perhaps should have made some big changes in the editing room. Because honestly, losing the opening frames wouldn’t make any difference to the plot and would immediately immerse us into the late-70s Kabul, which looks like paradise compared to what it’s like now. And it’s not like the phone call in the beginning was all that enticing enough to leave us on the hook. I get the need for this device in a film noir or something but this ain’t a murder mystery or heist film. It’s a character piece about redemption, loyalty, and friendship. So let’s get right to that stuff immediately.
I’m a sucker for friendship tales. Romances don’t really do it for me, but solid tales about friendship get to me. And there’s one moment in The Kite Runner that just killed me. I won’t divulge too much here since it is a big turn in the film and ends up being a pivotal moment in the lives of these two best friends – Amir and Hassan – altering their trajectories in ways that can’t be exaggerated. After that specific incident, as Hassan walks out carrying Amir’s kite, that look on his face is just beyond heartbreaking. I don’t know where Forster and his team found these actors, but Mahmoodzada was a revelation as Hassan, the Hazara boy who was a minority in the Pashtun-dominant city of Kabul. Everything leading up to this moment in the film worked for me — except, of course, the opening framing device. The themes were established well without being beaten over your head. The father-son situation between Amir and Baba (Ershadi) felt real. And, most importantly, I completely believed Amir and Hassan were best friends. Close like brothers, even. But everything after the Hassan incident just didn’t make sense. Here you have these inseparable best friends (although the local bully Assef says something to Hassan about Amir only hanging out with him when he has no other options, yet we never see Amir hanging out with anyone else other than Hassan, so perhaps this was something that was expanded upon in the book that had to get cut for runtime in the film) but when things take a turn for the worse, all of a sudden Amir pulls a total 180. I can kind of understand that Amir’s own shame clouds his young mind and acts inappropriately out of immaturity and guilt, but still. It just doesn’t make sense how Amir acts toward Hassan for the next sequence of the film.
Then the movie pulls its own 180 and we get a wholly separate story about twenty-something Amir (Abdalla) taking care of his ailing father in San Francisco while navigating the cultural norms of dating a fellow Afghani woman (Leoni). It didn’t help to go from the captivating 70s Afghanistan stuff to this when the acting just drops off the cliff. I applaud the filmmakers for casting actual
Arabic Persian speakers (the two main kids are native Afghanis) and love that they chose to shoot all of those scenes in Arabic Persian with English subtitles. Nothing would’ve been worse than had they cast American kids who looked “ethnic” and had them all speaking American English. The kids were total naturals, too. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for Abdalla, on whom the whole second half of the film rests. And he just can’t pull it off. Most of the scenes with him feel like a made-for-TV movie, maybe because they switch to English for much of this section, which makes sense to an extent since they are living in San Francisco and have been for over a decade. But, even when Amir and his father are at home, just the two of them, they tend to speak English. (Sidenote: Ershadi is magnificent as Amir’s father. Maybe that’s the real reason that Abdalla seems out of his element: Ershadi can act circles around him in his sleep.) I know this is perfectly plausible, but I know a fair share of first generation immigrants and most of them speak to their parents in their native tongues. Also when Amir goes back to Afghanistan, while traveling through Taliban-run Kabul, Amir speaks to his driver/friend in English. Why? It makes no sense and pulls us out of the film. I feel like it it may have benefited the whole film had it just stuck with the foreign film vibe.
Naturally, at some point, this Amir-Father-Girlfriend story ends up at that same moment we saw in the opening minutes, which takes us into the just ridiculous third act. Honestly, the script goes from being this deep character/cultural study to taking its beats from a kids’ action flick. In case you decide to watch this, I won’t spoil it, but who ends up being the head Taliban guy that Amir has to go through in order to right his wrong is just laughable. And the fight scene? I won’t even bother giving it the time of day other than to say it was quite literally one of the most poorly staged fisticuffs captured on celluloid by a prominent Hollywood director. The Broccoli family clearly didn’t pop this one in when they were deciding to hand the 007 franchise reins over to Forster because, if they had, there’s no way in hell he’d have gotten the job. Or maybe they did because they planned for Quantum of Solace to be so horrible. But that this movie ended up having its climax be a beat-down by a Taliban shows just how flawed this film is. This isn’t Syriana or Green Zone or something. Yes, there’s going to be plenty of commentary about the whole situation from the refreshing point of view of the native Afghanis who despise the Taliban just as much as the rest of us do, which is nice to see. But ultimately it’s about personal integrity and standing up for what’s right. To have that message come down to a mano-a-mano fistfight between two guys in turbans completely throws everything they’d done previously in the film down the drain in a split-second. I have no idea if this was the original ending in the book as well, but I’d have to assume that it was done better in the novel. Or at least readers are more forgiving than I am as a filmgoer.
I never even got into the title of the film. I’m not sure there’s much point now. It’s not a metaphor, rather through half the film you consider one of the main characters to be the titular kite runner while at the end another takes the moniker over. Forster turns the kite flying scenes into CG Top Gun-inspired dogfights, which is pretty ridiculous. It looks like these kites are about 1000 feet in the air flying at near-Mach speed, soaring across the entire city of Kabul, when there’s no way that’s possible. I do admit though that it looks kinda cool and you do feel tension and excitement from it. A decent use of CG if there ever was a reason for it in this type of film. If anything, the kite runner is a symbol of loyalty, which is something that adds to the heart-wrenching moment in the middle of the film with Hassan and Amir. And, honestly, I bet its an extremely rewarding aspect of the book. Because I get why the book was popular now. As poignant as the young Amir and young Hassan storyline was in the film, I’m sure it was even more so in the book. So, I have to hope that the ending of the book is more consistent with the world created than what Foster/Benioff do here. Because once they’ve shit the bed with the bare-knuckle brawl in Kabul, it gets even worse once we’re back in San Francisco. I won’t spoil it here but, wow. It’s so bad. Eye-rollingly unearned even though it “makes sense” from an objective screenwriting point of view. It’s all made so much worse because it should’ve been tear-jerkingly powerful. That scene in the middle still kills me when I think about it and, I might have to just recommend it for that whole section alone. It’s truly heartbreaking, but by the time we endure the absurdity of the final act, Forster and Benioff have done everything possible to make us forget those real emotions we felt earlier. The Kite Runner should be a haunting yet ultimately uplifting if bittersweet story. And for two-thirds of the film it nails that. Unfortunately that last third sends this one to the bottom of the bargain bin at CVS, right where it belongs.
The DVD offered a decent enough picture as you’d expect from a DVD. It’s tough going back and forth between DVDs and Blu-rays now since there’s such a noticeable difference in quality. (First world problems, I know.) You have a commentary track with Forster, Benioff, and Khalid Hosseini, the author of the novel. Also a trailer and a PSA to start the film asking you to support the NGOs that are doing their part to rebuild Afghanistan. Overall, a decent disc if you’re going to buy this, especially since it’s probably super cheap to get on the used rack.
Out of a Possible 5 Stars