Some critics are predicting that The Kite Runner will be this year's Best Foreign Language Picture. Directed by Marc Forster, the movie has a lot going for it: a look at life in Afghanistan before the Taliban and the Russians, a story of a man trying to find himself even when he lives halfway around the world and one of the rare glimpses at the country shortly before September 11, 2001. Still, The Kite Runner seems to be missing something.
The movie is about two boys who are best friends, though they come from completely different backgrounds. Amir is an affluent Pashtun boy, while Hassan, a Hazara, is essentially his servant. Still, the two are the perfect team when it comes to competitive kite flying; Amir can take out any kite, while Hassan can track a kite's path anywhere in Kabul. After a horrifying incident, however, Amir finds himself drifting away from Hassan for the most selfish of reasons. When the Russians invade the country, Amir and his father flee to America, but Hassan remains behind. Years later, Amir has to make a tough decision that will test his very soul.
The movie has Oscar gold written all over it, but it just isn't as edgy or gritty as it needed to be. The movie is at once about two childhood friends, the Russian invasion, life of intelligent Middle Easterners living in America (working at a gas station) and the Taliban, yet at times The Kite Runner felt more like a TV movie. That's perhaps a bit harsh, but I wonder what this movie could have been like in the hands of a different director. Forster hit it big with Finding Neverland, though I always thought that film was a bit overrated, too. The Kite Runner is at times excellent and completely engaging, while at other times just doesn't look complete. The scenes set in pre-war Afghanistan, starring the two little boys, are terrific; they capture the way of life in the country in a way I never imagined. The two boys, both real Afghanis, are good in their respective roles and, even with essentially no acting experience, build a couple of likable characters. The film's most powerful and disturbing scene also involves these two boys.
Yet, when Forster skips ahead to modern day San Francisco and depicts Amir as a grown adult, the movie screeches to a halt. These scenes are painfully plain in both direction and plot, and while they are still decent, they seem completely out of place for a foreign language picture up for a Golden Globe. The scenes aren't boring, but they certainly aren't riveting, and compared to the sequences set in Afghanistan, they hold little wait. It also doesn't help that Khalid Abdalla, who plays the adult Amir, isn't a strong enough actor to carry the weight of the movie. He isn't bad; but, again, he isn't that good, either.
I also had issue with the film's ending. Forster pretty much turns the movie into an action movie in one sequence, as Amir is forced to escape from the Taliban. Once again, this sequence just seemed out of place, and as far as action sequences go, it also felt a bit TV-ish (which is worrisome since Forster is directing the next James Bond movie).
The Kite Runner feels like three movies in one, and only one is fully fleshed out. The movie is still pretty decent, but does it deserve all the praise it has received? Definitely not.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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