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the kite runner (new review)

The first thing that impresses me in a movie, (apart from how hot the lead actress looks in the trailer:)) is the title credits sequence. Most often, you can actually tell whether you’re going to like the movie or not just by looking at the way the title credits roll on the screen. It kind of shows how passionate the movie makers really are about the movie, how proud they are of their own baby. A really common way of starting movies today is to run their credits on top of the actual running images, while the characters are being introduced to you, or a derivative thereof. That’s a safe way of cutting down on time, so by the time the credits are over, you know who the main character/s are and and what are their basic constructs (for want of a better word) in life are, i.e. what’s driving them? The guys who made this movie wisely chose not to follow that path. The title sequence is an elaborate play with animated typography on a light background of watercolour effects, and really good music to match. It’s simple yet mesmerising, and even before the credits were over, I knew that I was going to like the way the movie was going to be handled.

On to the movie now. Based on Khaled Hosseini’s novel of the same name, the movie tells the tale of Amir, a young Afghan boy, and his best friend and Hazara servant, Hasan, a fiercely Hazara boy, who loves listening to stories and running down captured kites for Amir. The story starts off as the tale of two carefree boys in Afghanistan who love flying kites and watching dubbed Steve McQueen movies while making plans to become the Sultans of Kabul. Their only enemy is Assef, a bully who hates Amir’s friendship with a Hazara boy, and is always on the lookout to get him. Things however start taking an ugly turn, when after winning the local kite flying competition Amir witnesses a horrible incident that starts building up a guilt complex within him, that eventually becomes a barrier in his friendship with Hasan. Guilt, combined with his resentment at his own father being overly critical of him, and seemingly having more affection for Hasan, leads Amir to betray his friend as a thief, and this eventually leads to Hasan and his father leaving their employment and moving out. Soon after, as Amir is learning to cope with his own demons and his emotions, he finds his whole life around him changing, as the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan forces him and his father to join other refugees in their mass exodus to Pakistan, and further on to the US. In the US, he and his father set up a life away from home with other Afghan refugees, and Amir grows up, settles down in life, has a wife and has started life as a writer. Sometime after his father’s death, he receives a call from his father’s old friend, Rahim Khan, who calls him to Pakistan as there is something that Amir needs to do, ‘to set some things right’. To mend old wrongs – his own as well as his father’s – Amir needs to go back to a Taliban controlled Afghanistan, and save the now-dead Hasan’s son, and bring him out safely. An adult Amir, coping with his old memories and new found American sensibilities, returns to his home town, to find out that it is nothing like what he remembers it. The Taliban has complete control over Afghanistan, his father’s house is in abandoned and in shambles, and the streets that once smelled of lamb kabobs and echoed with laughter now carried the distinct odour of death and gloom. In his search for the boy, he realises that he has become a tourist in his own country, and the only way to get what he came for is to face his old demons, and even enemies, once more.

As I mentioned before, the movie is a fairly faithful adaptation of the novel, and I think that was a very wise move by the director. It’s a real human story, and it would never have been the same if it had been given the usual Hollywood commercial treatment. The movie does miss out on certain nuances of characters and emotions that were expressed in the book, but according to me, those are the limitations of adapting a story from one medium to another, and not of the director. Although apart from the Amir and Hasan, the only other character that has been explored in the movie is Baba, Amir’s father, having read the book, I really would have loved to see his character come out more strongly. What Amir had become as an adult was strongly influenced by having an overly overbearing and righteous father. The book brings it out in depth, but the movie could not. The director has tried it, but it was almost like paying lip service to the character. I guess if you have read the book, those scenes would make sense to you, but if you are one of those, who go straight for the movie, and skip the book, those nuances may not stand out that much. Such as the incident where Amir’s father stands up against a Russian soldier. Or the scene where Baba and Amir go out for a drink, where you can see what kind of a person Baba really is, and how easy it is for him to make friends anywhere he goes. It’s incidents like these, and several more, that make the story real and plausible. Something which I guess was slightly lost in translation from book to script. But, nonetheless, it’s a movie about a very sensitive topic and thankfully it has been very well handled.

The unknown cast has given fairly good performance. Especially the two children who play Amir and Hasan. Even though they are convincing in their roles as friends who will never part ways, as the Sultans of Kabul, Amir seems to always carry that slight resentment at Hasan’s unwavering loyalty towards him, and not finding himself worthy of it. Khaled Abdalla as the adult Amir is also competent and genuine enough to carry off the character – that of somebody who is living in guilt and is in constant search of something to be proud of – very well. Homayoun Ershadi as Baba has also turned in a good performance, subdued and quiet. The benefits of casting a crew of non-professional actors is that if they manage to understand their character well, they may not be able to give a brilliant Oscar winning performance, but they will give a really genuine performance. And that is exactly what everybody in the movie has done.

On a different note, the movie also gives a good idea of what life must have been like in Afghanistan before troubles began with the Soviet invasion. Like many, I really could never image an Afghanistan before the destruction caused by the forces of the Soviets, the Taliban and the US & UN air strikes which left the country barren and desolate. But, at least this movie gave an account of what life must have been life before it all. Also, the kite flying competition which Amir and Hasan take part in as kids, is beautifully shot, and is one of the best scenes I have seen in a movie in a really long time. Forster brings out all the energy and the enthusiasm in the kite flying sequence, and although you know that quite a bit of it is CGI, its still a pleasure to watch.

So, if you haven’t seen this movie, do yourself a favour. Go rent the DVD this weekend, and watch it. It’s not an easy flick to watch and has some really horrific stories to tell, and although they are not captured on screen, it may not be easy to watch for everybody, so I wouldn’t suggest popcorn and stuff. Better still, read the book first and then watch it. Then, you know what to expect, and whatever gaps you may find in the movie, will be filled in by the words of the author, and you will appreciate the movie even more.

Cast : Khalid Abdalla, Zekeria Ebrahimi, Homayoun Ershadi, Ahmad Khan Mahmizada, Atossa Leoni,
Ali Dinesh

Directed by : Marc Forster

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Comments»

1. Namrata - May 6, 2008

Hey Espritnoir,
Excellent review. I havent seen the movie, cause it aint available in India yet, but ill surely get my hands on it as soon as it is. Ive read the book, and could really understand what you meant, when you said Baba’s character could have been explored more. When i read the book, i felt a lot of the stories root, lay with Baba’s character and his ways of bringing Amir up.

Thanks for such a brilliantly written review. Maybe you should mail it to Khaled Hosseini:) Im sure he’ll appreciate the gesture. Im a member of his club, let me know if you’d really like to mail it to him.
Thanks once again.
Looking forward to more reviews:)


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