Marc Forster (Monster’s Ball, Finding Neverland) directs The Kite Runner, the 2007 film based on Khaled Hosseini’s best-selling novel of the same name. The movie is set in Afghanistan, but dangers in the region during the time of filming forced production to use Kashgar, China, as a double. The dialogue is in Dari Persian, with some English, and many of the actors had to learn the language prior to filming. Forster’s film is an ambitious one and not without its controversy, but it is also a moving and compelling human story.
The Kite Runner succeeds as a pure story. The performers are excellent, but unknown. The effects are minimal and barely noticeable. The genre is impossible to peg, with elements of romance, comedy, adventure, and drama sprinkled throughout. Instead of relying on many of the standard trappings in film, Forster’s piece simply relies on capturing the interest of the viewer and developing emotional attachment to the characters and to how the events will play out. Having read the book, I was instantly swept into the world of Hosseini’s characters. Having not read the book, my wife was equally captivated by the wonder and scope of Forster’s film.
The story begins with a well-to-do Afghan boy named Amir (Zekiria Ebrahimi) and his loyal Hazara (Persian-speaking people of Mongolian descent) servant Hassan (Ahmad Khan Mahmoodzada) as they are flying kites in Afghanistan before the Soviet invasion. Hassan and Amir are the best of friends, despite belonging to different classes and facing all sorts of prejudices from local bullies. The boys live in a vibrant city and Amir’s father, Baba (Homayoun Ershadi) is an intellectual secularist who loves both boys. One day, when flying kites, Amir and Hassan experience an event that changes both of them forever. Amir lives with the guilt of doing nothing, while Hassan lives with shame. Both boys grow apart.
The Soviets invade Afghanistan a short time later and Baba and Amir head to Pakistan to safety. Baba’s friend, Rahim Khan (Shaun Toub) stays behind in Afghanistan and looks after Baba’s home. Baba and Amir begin a new life in California and begin to live the American way of life while maintaining several traditions from home. Amir meets Soraya (Atossa Leoni) and is instantly smitten. He goes through the traditional ways of courtship before having Baba ask her father, General Taheri (Qadir Farookh), for her hand in marriage for him. The wedding takes place and life appears to be progressing in normal directions. One day, however, Rahim Khan calls Amir back to Afghanistan and more discoveries are made that will change lives forever.
Forster’s film conveys deep emotion with tremendous power and without forcing the issue. He is able to direct in a way that lets things happen organically. Forster coaxed a brilliant performance out of Halle Berry in the incredible Monster’s Ball and has an excellent track record for being a sensitive director with his performers. His ability to listen is obvious as one watches the story unfold on the screen. Forster’s respect for Hosseini’s novel is clear, too, as he remains faithful to many of the most poignant elements and allows Hosseini’s characters the right light in which to shine.
The child actors, Ebrahimi, Mahmoodzada, and Ali Dinesh, who plays Sohrab, are incredible and natural in their roles. They are convincing and powerful, often out-performing their adult counterparts with grace and simplicity. The families of the child actors have expressed fears about reprisals from the film, however, and Paramount relocated the three (plus another child actor playing a minor role) to the United Arab Emirates, paying their expenses until the boys reach adulthood. The Kite Runner was banned in Afghanistan theatres and DVD shops because of the ethnic tensions that the film highlights.
The Kite Runner is an immersive film that shows two sides of Afghanistan and two sides of its characters, both impacted considerably by the passage of time. The performances are moving, the screenplay is a dazzling adaptation of Hosseini’s excellent novel, and Forster’s direction is respectful and dignified in tying it all together in a beautiful way. I highly recommend The Kite Runner.
The DVD is a nice package overall, but doesn’t offer much by way of special features other than a pair of behind-the-scenes docs that showcase how Hosseini’s vision came to life. There is also an insightful commentary with Hosseini, Forster, and screenplay writer David Benioff that discusses the film in detail and highlights some of the differences between novel and movie. There are no deleted scenes, outtakes, or any other treats, but the film is strong enough on its own to serve with minimal accompaniment.