The Kite Runner 

Controversial film as beautiful as it is dark

We Americans should wrap our arms around each other and give a good hard squeeze while we thank our lucky stars that we’re fortunate enough to live in a country in which freedom and the pursuit of happiness are possible. The closest most of us come to getting an eyeful of the violence and tragedies other countries and cultures endure comes from often watered-down, filtered news footage of happenings around the world. But this footage generally fails to show the cultural breakdown of racist, religious issues and the cruelty that accompanies them. Nothing can shatter illusions of spoon-fed security like witnessing a modern day stoning in a film. Staged or not, the feelings invoked in the scene of punishment in the latter half of the film The Kite Runner are gut-wrenching, powerful and lingering. The truth of the dark side of a culture that is revealed in this scene is reason enough to see the film, but the real motivation should be the great story which unfolds through the telling of a boy’s privileged life in Afghanistan, his politically forced escape to America and the far less opulent life he leads there, and the humble return to his homeland years later. Adapted from the debut novel of Afghan-American novelist Khaled Hosseini, the film has sparked much debate over whether it will live up to the success of the book. Without having read the book yet myself, I was able to watch the film without analyzing every character and scene to make comparisons, which I think was a blessing. I do not believe you can compare books to films, because they are entirely different art forms. But the question does remain, which leaves a stronger impression, a book or a film? The Kite Runner as a novel left an impression on millions of readers, and became 2005's third best-selling novel. Obviously purists will offer plenty of criticism of the film version. However, sadly enough, I do not think the film will have as strong an impact on viewers simply because it will probably never reach the success or distribution that the book enjoyed, which is unfortunate. The characters and the story are strong and endearing figures, without becoming caricatures. Screenwriter David Benioff (25th Hour, Troy) did a good job in ensuring the characters and the heart breaking humanity (and lack of) came shining through as the most important components of the film. It is not the first time he worked with director Marc Forster (Monster’s Ball, Finding Neverland, Stranger than Fiction), who enthusiastically took the reigns of this film and worked with executive producers like Sam Mendes (American Beauty) to ensure the film adaptation was done as respectfully and accurately as possible. But the true strength in the film lies in it’s two Afghan child actors Ahmad Khan Mahmidzad (young Hassan) and Zekeria Ebrahimi (young Amir), and the relationships they have with each other as well as the prominent adult figures in their lives. These boys offer better performances than their adult castmates, with the exception of performances from Homayoun Ershadi as Baba, and Shaun Toub as his friend and business partner Rahim Kahn. The sensitivity and strength both men showed through their characters was surprising and captivating. The cinematography is breathtaking thanks to the work of Roberto Schaefer (Best in Show, Finding Neverland, Monster’s Ball), with the Afghan sections of the story filmed in Kashgar, China. Though the settings are believable, the film does suffer a disconnected feeling at times. Some flashes from past to present seem choppy and aspects of the story definitely seem more interesting in the past, until a grown Amir returns to his homeland and finds the Kabul of his childhood gone, replaced with a wretched, horrific wasteland ruled by the Taliban. Spurred on by the words “There is a way to be good again,” from his father’s friend, Amir’s quiet life is thrown into turmoil. Everything he thought he knew is suddenly challenged and he must face the memories and secrets he would have preferred to keep buried. According to World Literature Today, The Kite Runner was the first novel published in English by an Afghan author. It is significant that fiction and film closely mirror the life of author Hosseini, who was born in Kabul and fled to the United States seeking political asylum in 1980 after the political upheaval and takeovers of Afghanistan. The violence and racial tensions he depicted in his book are significant and illuminating, especially in regards to how the Taliban treats children. Child actor Mahmidzad’s family was so concerned about the safety of their son, they tried to have a controversial rape scene removed from the film. There was much concern over the safety of all the children involved with the film. The two lead child actors have since been moved from Afghanistan due to threats to their safety, and the film’s release was halted until the safety of the boys was ensured. Despite the disconnected feeling the film lags under at times, the end result is a good story of bare, simple, broken down humanity. It is a story about regret and shame, but mostly, it is a story about redemption and the cost of attaining it. The Kite Runner opens at the Flicks Jan. 4th
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