The Kite Runner

About half an hour into The Kite Runner, it comes — a terrific battle of kites in the skies of Kabul, swooping at each other like fighter jets, snipping one another’s strings as the gathered crowds bellow with excitement. Everywhere you look, kids are on rooftops or in the streets, in pairs, one holding the spool, the other manipulating the kite like an angler trying to land a big, flapping fish. It’s a truly magical sequence. Not long after that, one of the boys is cornered in an alley and raped. So much for magic. The Kite Runner, based on Khaled Hosseini’s book-discussion-group phenomenon, is a thin and melodramatic epic whose emotional charge derives almost entirely from the performance of Ahmad Khan Mahmidzada, who plays the boy in peril, Hassan.

Hassan works as a servant to young Amir (Zekiria Ebrahimi), whose father, known only to us as Baba (Homayoun Ershadi), has retained Hassan’s father’s services also. The boys are close friends, moving in tandem through the streets of Kabul circa 1978. Though Hassan is not particularly big, he protects Amir from bullies, including the trio who eventually assault Hassan. Too afraid to intervene, Amir hides and looks on, then runs away. Amir’s guilt is such that he can’t look at Hassan without being reminded of his own cowardice, so he does odd, cruel things to Hassan.

All of that isn’t bad, though indebted to films like Louis Malle’s Au Revoir, Les Enfants and Roland Joffe’s The Killing Fields — ah, the torments of the higher-class weakling who lacks the stones to save his lower-class friend. But The Kite Runner is the story of how the grown Amir (Khalid Abdalla), now a successful writer in America, delves back into the lion’s den of Kabul under Taliban rule to rescue Hassan’s son from — you guessed it — the same sexual sadist who raped Hassan years before. Oh, it’s a tearjerker; the usual people who fall for this stuff will be crestfallen. I stopped believing in it soon after it became clear that Hassan, despite Mahmidzada’s brave and emotionally transparent peformance, is a plaster saint allowed no traces of complexity or even resentment at the friend who abandoned him.

Bargaining to take Hassan’s son Sohrab home to America, Amir is told to leave, whereupon he intones, “Not without Sohrab.” I hear a bit of Not Without My Daughter there — another well-meaning film that casts Arabs as brutal savages, except, of course, for the sensitive, intellectual ones. In short, the Westernized ones. The Kite Runner does romanticize pre-Soviet and pre-Taliban Kabul, but only as a larger metaphor for how people like Amir ran away from it — just like he ran from Hassan! — leaving it to the warriors and rapists. Amir is called back to Kabul as a chance “to be good again” — i.e., to redeem his manhood and preserve what little innocence is left in Kabul.

Along the way, there’s a wedding and a funeral, within the same five minutes of screen time. There’s something here to jerk everyone’s tears, except those of us who’ve seen it before in other variations. As adapted by director Marc Forster and scripter David Benioff, The Kite Runner comes off as the simplistic Oprah-approved gush it always was, and heroic wish fulfillment for a Kabul-born author who’s made millions off of the pain of his countrymen. (Khaled Hosseini left Kabul with his family before any of the bad stuff went down.) What’s worse, the two boy actors were forced to flee Afghanistan for fear of reprisals over the rape scene; Paramount Vantage, the film’s distributor, got to play Amir and rescue the boys from the savages. Hollywood — and perhaps the Oscars too, I fear — will grab at any chance to “be good again.”

Explore posts in the same categories: adaptation, drama, overrated

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