The Kite Runner ***
I recently read "The Kite Runner" after buying a used copy of it from a man a few steps away from the IFC Center last February. I recall the incident well, as when I asked the man how much money the book cost, he replied "Five dollars." When I went into the store to break my twenty, he called after me, "Or a 40 oz. Budweiser can." I can him the five dollars. I heard so much about the book-how wonderful and amazing it was-that I wanted to make sure I had read it before seeing the film, upping my chances that I am able to read the book without an prior knowledge of what happens. This is dangerous to any film or book buff, as one is never as good as the other, even if you read the book first or watch the film first. I did the same thing earlier this year with "Feast of Love," which I might have liked as a film even I didn't read the book, and "Love in the Time of Cholera," which is just a plainly bad movie-even without the book. The days and weeks and months drove by, and I still hadn't read the book, and a week before the film was released I hastened to read the 371 pages text-not a problem, as it was an easy read.
Did I like the book, you ask? I did, very much. The last fifty pages or so were intense as anything, and even difficult to read. I was able to see the growth of the main character, Amir, and chart his physical and mental journey over the course of the thirty years that the novel goes. My only real problem was that it does lag in the middle for a while-the in-between for our character as he embarks on a new journey and as he ends another one-and that it is rather poorly written-which makes an easy read, yes, but its still sloppy. However the storytelling skills are still there, and that is exactly what I expected from Forster going into this adaptation. Besides Christopher Nolan, I don't think there is a more variety hungry director out there than Forster, who can drift from a race drama, a family drama, a metaphysical thriller, to a comedy with such ease that you'd think he's been doing this for decades. And he does a very good job behind "The Kite Runner,"-and it still works as a great story that you are at the edge of your seat waiting to see what happens next.
The film, and book for that matter, is about Amir (Zekeria Ebrahimi), a young boy living in Afganhistan in its time of peace. Without the wars and the problems that we relate it to today, before the Russians eventually overtook it in the early 80's (the inspiration for the events in the very good "Charlie Wilson's War" coming out this Friday.) Amir is happy with his father, Baba (Homayoun Ershadi), and in the novel there is a juciy father/son relationship conflict that is in the film, but you kind of have to know that its there to really chart it. They also live with their Hazara servants Ali and his son Hassan (Ahmad Khan Mahmidzada). Amir and Hassan are friends, which is dangerous because of the difference in their heritage. It leads them to be bullied by the power hungry Assef (Elham Ehsas) (who, complete with the two goons at his side reminded me a little bit too much about the Malfoy character in the "Harry Potter" books, but I suppose all villians are like that regardless of what time period.) When Assef ends up committing an act of violence on Hassan, which Amir witnesses and doesn't do anything to stop it, their friendship completely changes. Amir suddenly cannot live with himself anymore. Hassan and Amir eventually move away, and Baba and Amir move to America to escape the Russians. In America, Amir (now played by Khalid Abdalla) finds love and contentment with his father, but all that changes when he is contacted by his father's best friend back home to come back and retrieve the son of Hassan, now dead (this isn't really a spoiler as it is in the trailer and all advertisement for the film), who has been captured by the Taliban. Amir heads into this dangerous voyage to try and save the boy, but also find peace within his own mind.
Since the novel, written by Khaled Hosseini in 2003-possibly as a response to the frame of mind Americans had over Afghanistan following the September 11th attacks-is written in the first person, it is tough to translate something like that to the big screen, and I think that's where "The Kite Runner" meets most of its problems. I mentioned the father/son relationship that is one of the cores of the novel, but also I found it hard to find Amir's inner conflict following the shock that he sees concerning Hassan and Assef. In the book this was clear motivation for his eventual journey to rescue his friends son, as well as the fact that he was unable to have a child with his wife, something that is barely mentioned here but was given at least six pages to in the book. And so, since the character study portions of the novel do not fit well in the film, I have to return to my original expectations to Forster-tell a good story. And that is exactly what he does. Those who haven't read the book will certainly get strong enjoyment from this film-and flaws aside it is a good story well told, and worth telling. But to really find dimensions in the characters, and to have them leave a deeper imprint in your mind, the novel will certainly be apt at doing that. Especially a strong dramatic incident towards the end of the book which is missing from the film-the film does already run a mint 128 minutes, and this incident does come a little out of left field in the book. It might have also been a little too much. I can commend Forster for taking a stab at this, and doing quite a good job. Especially with the last scene-those who read the book will know what I'm talking about-which is a complete swell of emotion all at once-but Forster does the scene perfectly. With good storytelling, acting, and music to boot, "The Kite Runner" is a good film and nothing more. In a crowded season of several great films, this might not be at the top of the must-see list, but it is more proof that Forster will be regarded as a master one day.