The Kite Runner

kite-runnerSet largely in Afghanistan before the events of 9/11 and spanning the fall of the monarchy, the Soviet invasion and the Taliban regime, The Kite Runner is a compelling story of two boys growing up during these tumultuous times. Adapted from Khaled Hosseini’s bestselling novel about guilt and redemption, the film explores the factions and friendships that exist between different Muslim groups of both moderates and extremists. Its mostly inexperienced cast speak in a mixture of Dari, Pashtu and Urdu as well as English.

The film begins in Kabul before the Russian invasion of Afghanistan, where two young boys from very different backgrounds form a close friendship. Amir (Zekeria Ebrahimi), is the son of a wealthy landowner who loves to write and is cowardly when it comes to fending off bullies; Hassan (Ahmad Khan Mahmoodzada) is a servant in the household of Amir’s father. Though smaller than Amir, slingshot in hand, he is ready to protect him at any moment. The two play together, read together, fly kites together – they are inseparable.

When one day Hassan is brutally attacked by older children in the neighbourhood, Amir’s cowardliness gets the better of him. He watches in horror but does nothing. Wracked with guilt, Amir persuades Hassan to leave his fathers’ service, and spends the rest of his life atoning for his misdemeanour.

Twenty years later Amir is a successful author living in California. A classic hero whose morals inform his judgement, he defies an old Muslim general to marry his daughter, and, sporting a false beard, returns to Taliban-controlled Afghanistan, determined to make amends to his childhood friend.

The story proceeds with a guileless simplicity which places Muslims into two broad camps. There are good Muslims, such as Amir’s wise and stern father, who, contemptuous of both Communists and bearded Islamist radicals, escapes with his son to freedom-loving America. There are also bad Muslims – the Taliban – presented as pharisaic hypocrites, capable of stoning adulterous women in front of eager crowds whilst turning a blind eye to paedophilia and boy-rape.

Director Marc Forster sticks rigidly to the original novel, meaning that the story is never really allowed to come to life. However, a cast of mainly inexperienced actors put in some fine performances, especially from the two young boys, played by Zekiria Ebrahimi and Ahmad Khan Mahmidzada. Iranian-born Homayon Ershadi is particularly notable as Amir’s generous and enlightened father, unable to comprehend Taliban fury or Russian greed. Khalid Abdalla is rather bland as the adult Amir.

There are some delightful moments, such as shots of the kite-filled sky over Kabul, or the time the two lads sneak into a dubbed screening of The Magnificent Seven and discuss it afterwards. However, Forster’s adaptation is too rigid; too keen to tie up loose ends. For a film that features child rape and public murder, The Kite Runner feels remarkably timid.

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