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The Kite Runner

The Kite Runner
2007 / Color / 2:35 anamorphic widescreen / 128 min. / Street Date March 25, 2008 / 29.99
Starring Khalid Abdalla, Homayoun Ershadi, Shaun Toub, Atossa Leoni, Zekira Ebrahibi, Ahmad Khan Mahmoodzada
Cinematography Roberto Schaefer
Production Design Carlos Conti
Art Direction Karen Murphy
Film Editor Matt Cheese
Original Music Alberto Iglesias
Written by David Benioff from the novel by Khaled Hosseini
Produced by William Horberg, Walter F. Parkes, E. Bennett Walsh, Rebecca Yeldham
Directed by Marc Forster

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

The Kite Runner breaks with the notion that American audiences require home-grown identification figures, even for stories set in unfamiliar cultures. Based on a celebrated novel by Afghan expatriate Khaled Hossein, the fascinating film plunges us into completely new territor, for an exciting and emotional story about an under-represented corner of the world.

Although nominated for only one Oscar, The Kite Runner is one of the best and most interesting films of 2007. Dreamworks' DVD contains a pair of featurettes that stress the unusual nature of the filming -- in Western China, with an international cast. Director Marc Forster (The Monster's Ball, Finding Neverland) has signed on to helm the next James Bond opus, Quantum of Solace.


2000. Afghan-American author Amir Housseni (Khalid Abdalla) leaves his new wife Soraya (Atossa Leoni) in California to travel to Pakistan, at the request of close family friend Rahim Khan (Shaun Toub). Amir remembers his childhood in Kabul, and especially his close relationship with young Hassan (Ahmad Khan Mahmidzada), the son of the family housekeeper. In 1978 young Amir (Zekeria Ebrahimi) is a bookish kid sometimes uncomfortable with the fact that his best friend Hassan is from the Muslim, Farsi-speaking Hazara minority. The two boys become expert kite fliers, competing in neighborhood 'kite fights'; Amir's father (Homayoun Ershadi), a prosperous developer, is very proud that they've bonded so closely. After a big victory, bullies led by local boy Assef (Elham Ehsas) rape Hassan. Amir turns on his best friend. Then the Soviets invade Kabul. Amir and his father barely escape, to France and eventually America. Amir grows up realizing that he's wronged the loyal Hassan, and owes him a great debt. Rahim Kahn's summons to Pakistan puts Amir in a position to atone for his sins ... by undertaking a perilous rescue mission into Afghanistan, now controlled by the brutal Taliban.

The Kite Runner's wonderful screenplay begins as a story of two boys in an exotic land and winds up as a tense thriller. In between we learn a great deal about the Afghan culture and the problems faced by decent people in a politically unstable land. Book author Hosseini has no affection for the Russian invaders, and communicates in dramatic terms the consequences of a country ruled by religious fundamentalists.

Young Amir and Hassan are far from idealized. The privileged Amir has a strong desire to write, and is concerned that his father thinks him too passive. Hassan's loyalty to his friend Amir is complete, to the extent that he'll withstand any humiliation in silence. They enjoy screenings of The Magnificent Seven dubbed into Farsi, and Amir marvels at Hassan's ability as a 'kite runner', racing through the streets to recover kites won in battle. But Amir fails his friend Hassan in a way so painful that he feels the need to compound the injustice, a serious emotional crime that haunts Amir all the way to adulthood.

Amir's father is a fairly wealthy businessman who can buy a Mustang muscle car to drive on the dusty Kabul streets. He flees when the Russians come but is brave enough to stand up to them on a point of honor, even though his life is at stake. The years of adjustment to life in America are nicely sketched, with the father working in gas stations and the son making money at swap meets. Amir falls in love with another Afghan expatriate and must deal with her father, who thinks his daughter worthy of a better match than a 'storyteller'. The ways of the old country persist in suburban America: Amir and Soraya can only take a walk together if her mother follows as a chaperone. Ironically, Americans nostalgic for lamented 'lost' traditions will see those exact values in these foreign immigrants.

Amir's perilous return to Kabul provides The Kite Runner with more than enough excitement for thriller fans. Amir must wear a fake beard, as the armed Taliban patrols will arrest any clean-shaven adult male. We see a rally in a soccer stadium where women accused of infidelity are stoned to death. Amir steals into the country to recover an orphan, and must eventually deal with a dangerous Taliban chieftain. He enters the Taliban compound to talk to bargain with men unlikely to let him walk out alive, let alone with the boy he seeks to take back to America. The chieftain sees through Amir's disguise almost from the start, and recognizes Amir from their childhood.

The Kite Runner does not resolve as a liberal-minded action film; it's also unlike the 1991 film Not Without My Daughter, a true story that nevertheless presents the familiar formula of 'good Americans versus bad Middle Easterners'. Hosseini's tale has a lot to say about family obligations and personal debts. The older generation has its faults as well as its triumphs, and young Amir's journey serves both to right a wrong and to repair his own sense of self-value. The movie acknowledges the reality of political Evil but holds for the belief that people are good and that every decent act has value.

Marc Forster gets great performances from his cast. Scottish-Egyptian Khalid Abdalla (United 93) has the correct conflicted look to play Amir, and Iranian Homayoun Ershadi convincingly ages twenty years as the father. The two youngsters playing the boyhood friends are both Afghan nationals, and the producers took steps to insure their safety before premiering the movie.

Dreamworks' DVD of The Kite Runner is presented in a fine enhanced transfer. Colors are excellent and the digital effects are well integrated into the film's look, even the somewhat idealized kite battles. Director Forster, author Khaled Hosseini and screenwriter David Benioff appear on a relaxed and informative commentary track. Laurent Bouzereau provides two featurettes. Words from The Kite Runner (14.5 min) is mostly about the film's conception. The more interesting Images from The Kite Runner (24.5 min) deals with the physical shoot, which becomes an adventure in itself when the American film company journeys to Western China to recreate a pre-war Kabul. That region of China, as it turns out, is heavily Muslim. It provides no end of virtually untouched desert scenery.

A trailer and a charity appeal from author Hosseini round out this satisfying disc.

On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor, The Kite Runner rates:
Movie: Excellent
Video: Excellent
Sound: Excellent
Supplements: Commentary by the director, author and screenwriter; two making-of featurettes, trailer
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: April 12, 2008

DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2008 Glenn Erickson

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