Three and a half stars
David Benioff wrote the screenplay for the film adaptation of Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner and you’re supposed to be reading an interview with him in this space. I spoke with Benioff in October, when he was in town for the Heartland Film Festival’s closing night screening of the movie. Nice fellow: smart, friendly, candid — a real gentleman. Alas, when I sat down yesterday to transcribe our conversation, I discovered that the cassette had committed suicide. So instead of a look inside the creative process, you get a review from Captain Movie. Lucky you.
Before the review, a few words about the controversy surrounding the film. As many of you probably know, the release of The Kite Runner was delayed due to concerns over the safety of the Afghan boys playing the central characters. Key to the story of friendship, betrayal and redemption is a scene where one of the 12-year-old best friends is assaulted by some older boys and raped.
Apparently one of the families feared for the safety of the first-time actors, believing that some in Afghanistan would be so offended by the rape scene that they would strike out at the performers. Accordingly, the studio delayed the release for six weeks to relocate the boys. It seemed odd to me that the family epiphany came after the film was finished and about to be released, but I won’t speculate on such a sensitive issue. I broached the subject with Benioff, but he simply stated his hope that someday the full story of what happened will be reported.
The film opens in Afghanistan prior to the Russian invasion, where we meet Amir (Zekeria Ebrahimi), the son of a wealthy landowner, and Hassan (Ahmad Khan Mahmidzada), the son of a family servant. Despite the class differences, the boys are fast friends, with tough little Hassan providing the backbone his well-to-do buddy lacks. When the fateful assault happens to Hassan, Amir cowers in the shadows and does nothing to disrupt the crime. Worse, he allows his guilt over his inaction to drastically affect the friendship.
Twenty years later, Amir (Khalid Abdalla) is a writer living in California with his wife Soraya (Atossa Leoni). When he receives a phone call about his old friend, he reluctantly sets off for Afghanistan, hoping to atone for his cowardice and betrayal.
The Kite Runner is well-acted and director Marc Foster generally does a good job balancing the dark moments and the lyrical ones. The story is certainly emotionally engaging, but I found the narrative a bit too pat at times. The third act depends on coincidence, as do many morality tales, and the reappearance of a key character and, soon after, a key object left me with a decision: Do I roll my eyes at the contrivances or just write it off to dramatic license? After a brief roll of the eyes, I decided to stick with the story. The Kite Runner is rewarding enough to warrant some critical leeway."