“There is a way to be good again.” The promise of that seemingly simple adjective, “good”—uttered half a world away by a man who is literally a voice out of the past—may be enough to inspire an Afghan-American author to set aside his new novel and return to his inhospitable homeland, but it isn’t sufficient to describe what director Marc Forster has accomplished with this adaptation of Khaled Hosseini’s bestseller. Never less than “great,” this Kite soars to rare heights.
That the only other feature film credit star Khalid Abdalla has to his name is playing one of the 9/11 co-conspirators in United 93, and that the filmographies of his equally fine co-stars Homayon Ershadi and Atossa Leoni are similarly sparse, shouldn’t dissuade anyone from betting on The Kite Runner ’s awards-season success. The emotional impact of the conflicted father-and-son relationship between Ershadi’s Baba and Abdalla’s Amir is especially powerful, even though it is technically secondary to the plot.
Before the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan forced them to flee for America, Baba and Amir—whose mother died in childbirth—had a privileged lifestyle, complete with household servants. Hassan (Ahmad Khan Mahmidzada), the son of Baba’s most trusted servant, was Amir’s (capably played as a child by Zekeria Ebrahimi) constant companion. Between their highflying dogfights with other kite runners, they trade terse lines of tough-guy dialogue from The Magnificent Seven —but when the Hazara Hassan is assaulted by a trio of uppity Pushtan bullies, Amir’s “notion of fair odds” proves to be anything but admirable. Tormented by his own failure to stand up for his friend, Amir pushes Hassan away.
Twenty-two years later, the adult Amir—still sensitive, still insecure—is offered a way to make things “good.” After Hassan is murdered by the Taliban, Amir returns to his native Kabul in an attempt to save the son (Ali Dinesh) of his childhood friend.
Although the thrilling sequences after Amir crosses the Pakistan-Afghanistan border are a bit like the false facial hair that he wears to avoid the attention of the Taliban’s gun-toting “beard patrol”—convincing, but ultimately artificial—they can’t disguise the emotional honesty with which Abdalla portrays a man whose atonement comes at a high personal price.
Distributor: Paramount Vantage
Cast: Khalid Abdalla, Homayon Ershadi, Shaun Toub, Zekeria Ebrahimi, Ahmad Khan Mahmidzada, Ali Dinesh and Atossa Leoni
Director: Marc Forster
Screenwriter: David Benioff
Producers: William Horberg, Walter F. Parkes, Rebecca Yeldham and E. Bennett Walsh
Rating: PG-13 for strong thematic material including the sexual assault of a child, violence and brief strong language
Running time: 122 min.
Release date: December 14, 2007 ltd.