"The Kite Runner" is not a seamless adaptation of Khaled Hosseini's best-selling novel, but it is a respectable one. Directed by the eclectic Marc Forster (2006's "Stranger Than Fiction
") and written by David Benioff (2004's "Troy
"), the film is one of the few Hollywood productions in memory with an all-Middle Eastern cast. That is worth noting, particularly since politics in the central pre-9/11 setting of Afghanistan is only a minimal player within a more stirring character-based tale delving into the betrayals and regrets of childhood, and the lingering irrevocable effect certain actions hold into adulthood.
Broken up into three concise segments, "The Kite Runner" begins in 1978 Afghanistan, detailing a friendship between young boys Amir (Zekeria Ebrahimi) and Hassan (Ahmad Khan Mahmidzada, emanating purity and goodness) that leads to shame and its own ultimate undoing soon after Amir witnesses the sexual assault of Hassan by a group of older neighborhood bullies. By the time of the Soviet invasion the following year, Amir, who flees with father Baba (Homayon Ershadi) to America, and Hassan, the son of a servant, have broken all remaining ties.
Switch forward to 1988 San Francisco, Amir has graduated from community college with the ultimate goal of becoming an author and soon marries the lovely Soraya (Atossa Leoni). His early years spent in Afghanistan are but a distant memory until the turn of the century, when he is unexpectedly summoned back to his homeland to receive some shocking news. Forced to reevaluate the shameful way he treated Hassan years ago while coming to terms with a place that is but a nightmarish, Taliban-led shell of its former self, Amir must now make a life-altering decision in order to right the wrongs of his past.
Without having read the source material, it is assumed that this big-screen version of "The Kite Runner," spanning twenty-two years and four decades in a two-hour timespan, has had to cut some corners so as to keep the picture at a manageable length. The film has an episodic, occasionally indecisive feel to its narrative, and it is only during the last half-hour or so that the major thread of the plot is revealed and dealt with. For those unfamiliar with the story, expect to be wondering well into the second hour how the 1978 scenes are going to tie back into the adult sections. Furthermore, certain events, particularly those in the 1988 era, are rushed past with little development, and heavy symbolism that might have worked well in written formi.e. the CGI-enhanced kite-flying sequences; a knocked-over apple cart that serves to recall an incident in Amir's childhood takes on a heavy-handed aura when converted to film.
What "The Kite Runner" gets right, however, are the underlying emotions of the story. The deception and cruelty that young Amir foists upon Hassan after he fails to defend himself and is tragically raped is painful to behold, stinging in its portrayal of the venomous lengths kids will go to to make up for their own fears and insecurities. In 2000, the older and wiser Amir's journey of self-discovery and his attempt to make amends at any cost necessary for the mistakes he once made are brought to vivid, resonant life through the empathetic direction by Marc Forster and the poignant, unshowy performance by Khalid Abdalla (2006's "United 93
"). The last thirty minutes, taking Amir on an eye-opening excursion through the hellish landscape of a home he scarcely recognizes, is truly riveting and even frightening, no more so than during two key sequencesone involving the cold-blooded stoning of a shrouded woman in the center of a sports stadium, and another placing Amir face to face with a human monster from his past.
Sumptuously photographed by Roberto Schaefer (2006's "For Your Consideration
") and gorgeously scored by composer Alberto Iglesias (2006's "Volver"), "The Kite Runner" has the look and sound of a prestige picture. Even so, the decidedly small-scale finished product doesn't quite measure up to the epic scope of its story. A possible future director's cut would be interesting to see, since some of the charactersAmir's wife, for onearen't given the attention needed to develop them beyond two dimensions. Fortunately, the film's heart remains very much intact, its unblinking look at the infallible strength of man and its hopeful cumulative message of redemption ringing with truth and clarity.