May 26, 2020
The Kite Runner (2007)
Grade: 73/100

Director: Marc Forster
Stars: Khalid Abdalla, Zekeria Ebrahimi, Homayoun Ershadi

What it's about. It is 1980 in Afghanistan, not long before the Russian invasion. Amir (Zekeria Ebrahimi) is an upper-class boy of about 10. His intellectual father Baba (Homayoun Ershadi) has a few servants on his estate in Kabul. One of them has a boy, Hassan (Ahmad Khan Mahmoodzada), about Amir's age.

Hassan and Amir are friends, and have a triumph together in a local kite tournament. But they become estranged after Hassan is bullied by older boy Assef (Elham Ehsas) for being a servant's son and an ethnic minority. Amir witnesses Assef raping Hassan, but is too afraid to interfere. Amir is at fault for a confrontation that compels Hassan and his father to leave Baba's employ, after many years.

The Russians conquer Afghanistan, and the politically outspoken Baba knows he must leave with Amir to the relative safety of Pakistan. They survive the costly and dangerous smuggling operation. From Pakistan, the two journey to San Francisco, and Baba builds a modest life there as a storekeeper.

Eight years later, Amir is a man (now played by Khalid Abdalla). Baba befriends former Afghan general Taheri (Maimoona Ghizal), and Amir falls in love with Taheri's daughter, Soraya (Atossa Leoni), who is predictably beautiful, kindly, single, and unattached. Baba, despite a terminal illness, manages to negotiate with Taheri a marriage between Amir and Soraya.

A dozen years later, Amir's first book set in Afghanistan has been published. He gets a phone call from Rahim (Shaun Toub), Baba's best friend when he lived in Afghanistan, who informs Amir that Hassan was Baba's illegitimate son, and thus Amir's half brother. Hassan died protecting Baba's home from the Taliban. Hassan's young son, Sohrab (Ali Danish Bakhtyari), is in an Kabul orphanage and Amir is obligated to rescue Sohrab and bring him to the West. The year is 2000, prior to 9-11 and the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan.

How others will see it. "The Kite Runner" was originally a significant bestseller, written by Khaled Hosseini. Later, it was a successful play in the San Francisco area. The movie also did well, given its 76K user votes at The movie was nominated for an Oscar, two Golden Globes, and three BAFTA awards.

The director, German-American Marc Forster, was acclaimed for prior movies Monster's Ball and Finding Neverland. He seems an odd choice for the film, but redeemed himself by not casting Western moviestars as Afghans, and not having the actors speak English except where appropriate.

The user ratings range between 7.8 (for women over age 45) and 7.4 (for men under age 30). U.S. and non-U.S. viewers grade it about the same.

How I felt about it. In the film Gandhi (1982), the title character tells the Hindu murderer of a Muslim child that he can only find redemption if he finds an orphan and raises the child as if he was his own. The caveat is that the child must be a Muslim, and brought up as a Muslim.

Similarly, The Kite Runner is about redemption, with strong parallels to Gandhi's famous lines. Amir can only atone for the wrongs he unfairly inflicted on Hassan, by rescuing Hassan's orphaned son, and raising him as his own. Amir's sins are tiny compared to those of the Hindu child murderer, but they are enough to cause Amir to risk his life for Sohrab's welfare.

It is a deep movie, with numerous profound statements made by Hassan, Baba, and Rahim. Curiously, Amir seems incapable of profundity himself, even though he is the only writer among those four. Hassan's willingness to sacrifice himself for his friend Amir, whether or not the latter is deserving, is a secondary theme. Comparatively, Amir is normal; flawed and without noteworthy gifts. Just like most of us, until he grows up to be a perfect man with a perfect wife, and writes a perfect book.

The movie raises questions. What is Baba doing in Afghanistan? He may have been born and raised there, but he is nonetheless a fish out of water, more comfortable (if not as wealthy) in America. How does Hassan know where the kite will land? Is that his X-man special power? Why do Amir and Hassan become the greatest kite fighters in Kabul, when they never seem to practice?

Amir's wife Soraya has to be the most placid wife in screen history. You're cancelling your book tour to go to Pakistan without me? No problem. You're going to risk your life in Afghanistan to rescue a relative you've never met. Okay. You're bringing him home to live with us. He refuses to speak, or look at you? Cool.

I can accept Hassan's sacrifices for Amir. But Sohrab has never met Amir, and doesn't know who he is. He has submitted to beatings and rapings, but risks his own life to save Amir from a beating. This is too much for me, even if it fulfills Sohrab's father's threat to Assef many years ago.

Baba's willingness to sacrifice his life to prevent a despised Russian soldier from raping a stranger should, logically, result in Baba getting arrested, if not killed. The child Amir might find his way into Pakistan, but without resources, might end up in an orphanage. Or worse.

Soraya's father is not just another refugee from Afghanistan. He's a general! And his racism toward Sohrab vanishes after Amir's two-minute speech. The local Taliban leader is not only a repressive theocrat, but he sodomizes children as well. One doubts that this would be tolerated by his guards, who likely covet his higher status within the Taliban hierarchy.

Yet despite its minor problems, The Kite Runner boasts an unusually intelligent screenplay (from David Benioff), with impressive performances especially from Homayoun Ershadi and Shaun Toub. It is skillfully directed by Marc Forster, with minimal traces of any sellout to commercial interests.