Children of Afghanistan
This tale of boyhood friendship and betrayal is sensitively told, if uneven, writes Michael Dwyer
THE KITE RUNNER Directed by Marc Forster. Starring Khalid Abdalla, Homayoun Ershadi, Zekiria Ebrahimi, Ahmad Khan Mahmoodzada, Atossa Leoni 15A cert, gen release, 127 min
MARC Forster is a versatile director who moves with ease between genres in movies as diverse as Monster’s Ball, Finding Neverland and Stranger Than Fiction, and he’s now working on the next James Bond adventure. His new film, The Kite Runner, is based on the popular debut novel by Khaled Hosseini, who grew up in Afghanistan and, like Forster, now lives in the US.
The film begins in San Francisco in 2000, when Amir, the protagonist, has published his first novel. He receives a call from an old family friend in Pakistan, and this cues an extended flashback to 1978, when Amir is a boy living in Kabul with his father. A sensitive only child, Amir wrongly believes that his father blames him for the death of his mother in childbirth.
Amir’s best friend is Hassan, the son of the family servant and the subject of racist taunts as a member of the lower-class Hazara. Whereas Amir shirks from confrontation, Hassan, who is smaller, is fearless in defending himself. When a teenage bully viciously attacks Hassan physically and sexually (the scene is discreetly handled but disturbing), Amir watches in horror but doesn’t intervene.
The relationship between the two boys is never the same again, and the consequences will haunt Amir for the rest of his life. As the movie reflects on the capacity for cruelty in children, and as Amir grows up to address his guilt in fiction, The Kite Runner inevitably recalls Atonement.
The expansive narrative goes on to deal with the 1979 Russian invasion, the escape of Amir and his staunchly anti-Communist father to the US, and the adult Amir’s return to Kabul, which has changed utterly under the Taliban regime. The screenplay is by David Benioff, who wrote 25th Hour, Troy and Jim Sheridan’s imminent Brothers, and he was faced with an unenviable task in condensing Hosseini’s novel into a two-hour film.
As a result, the US section of the story is quite sketchy and introduces underwritten characters. The scenes set in 21st-century Kabul are unflinching in depicting life under the Taliban, such as guards on “beard patrols” and the stoning of adulterers at half-time during a football game. Yet this sequence feels truncated and rather too neatly resolved.
The film is much more effective in its first half, as it establishes its themes of betrayal and redemption, and it benefits from the wonderfully natural performances of Zekiria Ebrahimi and Ahmad Khan Mahmoodzada, the inexperienced Afghan boys cast as Amir and Hassan. Forster illustrates the film’s recurring motif, as the boys enthusiastically engage in kite-flying contests, with a striking simplicity.
Khalid Abdalla, the Scottish actor who played one of the 9/11 hijackers in United 93, captures the lingering shame felt by the adult Amir, while Homayoun Ershadi, the Iranian architect who turned actor in A Taste of Cherry, brings dignity and moral gravitas to the role of Amir’s father.
Natural born actors: Ahmad Khan Mahmoodzada and Zekiria Ebrahimi as Amir and Hassan