The Kite Runner (6/10)

“There is a way to make a boring onesheet again.”

Before I begin, I must say that, right off the bat, this movie absolutely sucks in comparison to the book. There’s not even a question there. Therefore, like with the Golden Compass, I will not mention the book unless absolutely necessary in my review. You have been warned.

Recently, I’ve begun to notice that American filmmakers suck when it comes to making a powerful film about the Middle East that relates to the struggles that seem to gripping that area with an iron fist lately. They either seem to be too heavy-handed, too expository, or just downright dense about our involvement as a nation over there. Lions for Lambs was ambitious but ultimately a let-down; Rendition had a star-studded cast and was headed for Oscar glory until critics discovered it was preachy and incredibly naive; In the Valley of Elah was better received, but still, it was by no means a triumph; The Kingdom was a joke…the list goes on and on. However, if you look at films made the people who actually live over there, these are some of the most powerful and true and balanced in-depths films you will ever see about that area. Paradise Now was a powerpunch, The Syrian Bride was a desperately tragi-comic affair that exquisitely portrayed some of the dualism of that area. These kinds of things lead me to believe that Americans just can’t seem to make a movie about the Middle East right now, which is why I was more than apprehensive when I saw that Marc Forster, who directed the critically lauded Finding Neverland and Monster’s Ball, was signed up to take the helm on this one. Maybe they thought that his expertise in those areas qualified him to handle this blockbuster-power yet delicate subject matter movie adaptation of a lovable book. Turns out they were wrong. Kite Runner is movie that’s flawed in so so many ways, yet, despite the clumsy direction and script, and believe me, this is some damn clumsy work, the story of redemption and love shine through enough to give it a fair recommendation.

The film opens with a dude named Amir, who has just received his novel in the mail and is ready to start a book tour to promote this premier, when he receives a call from an old friend who tells him ominously, “There is a way to be good again.” From this we go to a flashback taking place in Kabul, Afghanistan. Amir is a young boy who loves to fly kites and has a Hazara, which is a low-class basically slave level kind of Afghan, servant named Hassan. The two are inseparable, especially when they fly kites, where Hassan’s job is to catch fallen kites and Amir’s job is to fly. Mind you, I’m explaining all this because the movie leaves the audience to pick up the fallen pieces and try to piece them together. Never once is Amir and Hassan’s relationship explained, nor kite flying why it’s so important, nor much else at all. Forster leaves it to us to figure things out; we’re left there dangling. Anyways, because this is a story that spans about fifteen or twenty years of a man’s life, it’s difficult to give a plot synopsis without giving key plot points away, so I’ll just move on to elaborate on the film’s flaws.

Aside from the confusing manner of story delivery, several key points of character development revolve around important characteristics of the main characters that are never even mentioned. A major turning point in the novel revolves around the watery impression that the viewer has that Amir is some kind of coward. Amir and Hassan’s relationship seems more like a couple of kids having fun instead of the very dark heart that is at the center of it all. You often wonder why Amir is being so mean to Hassan and why he’s such a jerk to him when it doesn’t seem to make any sense, as the key point of his jealousy of his father’s love is completely left out. Spider-Man showed that you could show jealousy between a friend and his love for a father with just a few key scenes, but Forster just seems to have forgotten it, being preoccupied with important stuff: kite-flying.

Khaled Hosseini, in a press release a month or so ago, said that the kite flying he had seen in the film was incredibly well done and far far better than he could ever have imagined. In point of fact, the kite flying scenes in the movie don’t carry much emotional weight at all, and when they do, it’s not because of the glaringly out-of-place CGI or the look-at-me-I’m-swooping-through-the-sky cinematography. It’s because of the humans at the center of the story, whom, as we’ve already discussed, don’t have very many dimensions, in part due to the incredibly rushed feeling the story has. The novel is 300 some odd pages long, while the movie, though not committing the fallacy of Golden Compass by clocking in at under two hours, still has the feel of a director checking things off a list.

The script is stilted, convenient, rushed, and eliminates all the cultural subtleties and importances that made Hosseinin’s novel so successful. Granted, this is a movie, so I don’t expect that kind of detail to appear here, but the complete disregard for Afghanistan culture is not only glaringly obvious, it’s also insulting. When Amir flashes back to his childhood in Kabul, his home life seems little more than a slightly retro California house. When he asks his wife to marry him, all the culturalities of the situation are tossed aside in favor of a quick and easy little movie equivalent of a footnote on the side of a page. Forster is far more interested in showing Americans how similar we are to Afghans than how different we are. By the end of the movie I was questioning myself why exactly this had taken place in Afghanistan. In Forster’s version of the story, nothing core really seems to be different from American culture. This clumsiness in the script and direction is extended to other scenes that should have great emotional impact, such as when a character gets raped. It’s a scene that should be chilling and horrifying yet comes off like a coward filmed it. I can understand Forster doing it as tastefully as possible, but in filming the rape scene like that he completely removed any solid emotional impact it may have had. Sure, it’s sad, but so? Other times key plot points seem like contrived conveniences rather than the momentous and meticulously set-up that Hosseini gives them in a novel.

BUT yet I’m still giving Kite Runner a fair recommendation. Why? Well, for the reasons I said above. The story is a deeply powerful one whose brightness shines through despite all the contrived and clumsy direction. If a good director and screenwriter had gotten a hold of this story, you can bet we’d be looking at a near masterpiece. The final scene in the movie brought tears to my eyes even though I had spent the previous two hours practically mentally demolishing it. Such a powerful emotional impact cannot be denied, and in my book, redeems this movie as a whole.

The Kite Runner is a very very flawed movie. The direction just plain sucks, the acting is all right, and the script is incredibly rushed. But the story is so good and so powerful that you really find yourself caring for these characters. The man who plays the adult Amir carries a quiet kind of charisma that really enables the audience to like him. Without him, I would be giving this movie a much lower rating, even though, as I said, the story is powerful. Not Forster’s type, though. Stick with American emotional movies, man. This one, though okay in the end, just wasn’t your thing.

If you’re the type of person who is not satisfied with a movie adaptation of the book unless it keeps virtually everything, there’s a high chance you’ll despise Kite Runner. But even if you don’t despite everything, like me, you’ll find yourself consistently wondering why the scenes cut were cut and the scenes kept in were kept in. Forster’s in a very confused outing here, but just try to ignore him. You’ll find a solid and uplifting story at the core of it all, and for some people, this may be just the ticket.


One Response to “The Kite Runner (6/10)”

  1. “The Kite Runner” an awesome book, great attention to details. Every single page made me cry, laugh, warmed up my heart with love, and made me angry… I cried non-stop throughout the book.

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