Thursday, January 27, 2011

"The Kite Runner" (2007)

Starring Khalid Abdalla, Zekeria Ebrahimi and Ahmed Khan Mahmidzada
Written by David Benioff
Directed by Marc Forster

The Kite Runner [Blu-ray]It's tough sometimes to critique a film that was adapted from another medium.  The trouble with adaptations is that you can get so lost trying to bring the book to life that it somehow turns out rather lifeless.  Now, "The Kite Runner" is certainly not a bad film, in fact, it's even rather good... but it's another one of those projects where you're done watching it and while you don't regret it, the impression you're really left with is, "The book was better."

Adapted from the novel by Khaled Hosseini, "The Kite Runner" is the story of a young Afghan named Amir (Khalid Abdalla as an adult, Zekeria Ebrahimi as a child).  Amir lives in Kabul with his affluent Baba (Homayoun Ershadi).  Baba wishes that Amir would be more assertive, but Amir would rather write stories.  Baba's friend Rahim loves Amir's stories, and encourages him to continue.  Amir's best friend, the son of Baba's servant, is Hassan (Ahmed Khan Mahmidzada).  Amir and Hassan are expert kite flyers, and even have a chance at winning the tournament one year.  But Amir and Hassan find themselves the targets of local bully Assef (Elham Ehsas as a boy, Abdul Salaam Yusoufzai as an adult).  After winning the kite flying tournament, Hassan is assaulted and raped by Assef and his cronies.  Amir witnesses this, but is too frightened to intervene.

Amir has trouble dealing with it, and tries to break off his friendship with Hassan.  When that doesn't work, he ends up framing Hassan for stealing a watch.  When Baba confronts Hassan about it, Hassan's father quits his job as Baba's servant, and they leave.  Not long after, the Soviets invade Afghanistan, and Baba, a known anti-Communist, is forced to flee with Amir to America.  Years later, Amir is now grown.  His father, once an affluent community member, now works at a gas station while Amir sells trinkets at a flea market to scrape up enough cash to go to community college.

There, he meets Soroya Taheri (Atossa Leoni), daughter of a once-powerful General in Kabul.  The two fall in love, and get married.  Baba's health begins to fail, however, and Amir and Saroya care for him in his final days.  Years later, Amir receives word from Rahim to visit him in Pakistan.  What he finds there will change everything he thought he knew about Hassan and his life in Kabul, and force him to make a dangerous and difficult decision about his future.

Khaled Hosseini's original novel is a fantastic work, worthy of all the praise heaped upon it at its release.  The book is well written, and a rather emotionally evocative reading experience.  The film, on the other hand, while technically well made, didn't quite connect with me the same as the book.  The film feels slight compared to the novel, lacking a certain weight to the proceedings to make me truly connect with the characters and their stories.

A great deal of the film rests on the shoulders of two child actors, both of whom do fine jobs, but neither of which really left a lasting impression on me.  The same can be said of the adult actors.  The film's most vibrant sequences are the kite flying sequences, which, I must say, are certainly the most action-packed bits of... kite flying... I've ever seen.

But for the most part, the film just feels like it's going through the motions, a checklist of scenes from the book that it needs to get through.  None of it is bad, not at all, and the return trip to Kabul in the third act is a sobering contrast to the vibrant childhood sequences.  "The Kite Runner" is worth watching, but rather as a companion piece to the novel than a replacement for it.  It's a solid, well-made adaptation... but that's all it is.  It can't transcend the material and become its own thing, which is a shame because it does tell a remarkable story.  It doesn't outstay its welcome, it has fine performances and is, at times, gorgeously photographed.

But it just lacks... something.