A review of “The Kite Runner” by Jeanne Aufmuth

 

Stars: ***

Rating: PG-13 for some violence and mature themes

Run Time: 2 hours, 2 minutes. In Dari and English with English subtitles

 

 

Marc Forester (“Finding Neverland”) adapts Khaled Hosseini’s wildly successful first novel to the big screen with empirical grace.

Guilt is the narrative thread running through a sprawling tale that spans two continents, three decades and a world of hurt. Kabul, Afghanistan circa 1978 is a cultural haven ripe with progress and promise. Twelve-year old Amir (Zekeria Ebrahimi) lives a life of luxury as the son of well-to-do businessman Baba (Homayoun Ershadi). He pals around with best friend Hassan (Ahmad Khan Mahmidzada) who doubles as the son of the family’s beloved servant.

Standard childhood mischief prevails; differences between Hazara and Pashtun be damned. Hassan worships the ground Amir walks on, displaying his loyalty in subtle ways both large and small. The boys join forces to run a kite in the annual Kabul kite flying ceremony, culminating in a startling and rousing triumph.

But the thrill of victory is short-lived, tainted by a shady act of cowardice that will haunt Amir’s days for years to come.

The decay of Afghanistan’s proud political scene deems it necessary for Amir and his father to abandon home and country and relocate to Fremont, California (home to the Bay Area’s largest Afghan community) where Dad toils at odd jobs and encourages his son’s higher education and dreams of becoming a writer.

Years later an urgent phone call from an old family friend is all it takes to send the adult Amir (Khalid Abdalla of “United 93”) back to his shattered homeland and a thorny date with destiny.

Forester makes every effort to appease legions of Hosseini fans, of which I am one. “Kite” is pleasingly faithful to its source material, weaving an enriching tapestry of dramatic ethnicity and tradition. The dread is palpable, particularly in modern-day Taliban -infested Kabul.

But a formulaic blueprint screams crowd-pleasing rather than risk-taking. “Kite” pits good against evil in oversimplified terms, an exercise in futility for enthusiasts of dark emotional tones. Pacing is a bit rushed; a niggling feeling of something fundamental left on the cutting room floor.

Performances are sound, particularly that of the still-waters-run-deep Abdalla. Piece looks wonderful, shots of Kabul pre and post-militia as silent witness to its skewed politics.

Genuine if not exactly inspiring.