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October 28th, 2013

Film Review: The Kite Runner

The Kite Runner dramatizes the Afghanistan culture over the 30 years before its 2007 release.  And although most of the actors are Afghani, speaking Dari with English subtitles, this film was made by Hollywood (DreamWorks) for English-speaking audiences.  And they deserve a round of applause for making an artistic, astute film that avoids the stereotypical clichés.  The film’s DNA comes from the 2003 best-selling novel of the same name, by Afghan-American Khaled Hosseini.  Hosseini’s story sets Kite Runner apart from the other 20 movies about Afghanistan by dealing with a mythic tale: an adult atoning for his childhood failures.  This tale happens all over earth, in all eras, because humans so crave forgiveness for their faults that they will try to self-atone, to self-redeem. 

Ten-year old Amir and Hassan live together in affluence in 1970s Kabul, just before the 1979 Soviet invasion.  Hassan and his father Ali are ethnically Hazara, servants of Amir’s father Homayoun.  The film is about the boys’ closeness, having grown up together and starred at kite-flying/running. 

The crafty cinematography and soundtrack of a dozen kites high in the air over Kabul provide a ceremony for the boys to share their bond.  The kite-flyers compete to see who can cross opponents’ strings and cut the kites loose.  When Amir cuts a kite, Hassan runs after it to claim it, charging down a maze of alleyways to get to the spot where the derelict kite will fall.  However, one day, teenage bullies grab Hassan, and their leader rapes him while Amir watches cowardly from behind a railing.  

Soon after, the boys go in different directions and the story jumps 20 years, while Amir and his father flee to the USA to avoid Russians and then Taliban.  Amir graduates from college, pursues novel-writing, marries an Afghani refugee, and watches his father die from cancer.  Then, out of the blue, he gets a phone call from an old mentor and friend of his father, bidding him to return to Afghanistan.  On this odyssey he atones for his cravenness as a kid. 

A decent story.  Anything else to make this film worth recommending?  Definitely yes.  Here, Hollywood has outdone itself.  The Afghan setting and soundtrack are superb: the crowded, prospering streets of Kabul in the 1970s; the vast, barren plains with snowy mountains at the horizon; the chaotic market; a birthday party with dancing; and the glorious kite-flying… throughout it all, the story of Afghanistan—its beauty, humanity, and pathos—comes through satisfyingly as a vibrant background to the boys’ story.