‘The Kite Runner’ stays on course

Fri, 01/18/2008 - 9:35am
By: Emily Baldwin

I’m always a little apprehensive when going in to see a film based on a book. I’m a big-time reader and one of my favorite novels I’ve read to date was “The Kite Runner,” so when I first heard that they were making a movie based on Khaled Hosseini’s 2003 best-selling novel, I wasn’t sure what to think.

“The Kite Runner” spans two decades of Afghanistan’s turbulent history, beginning in 1978 – prior to the Soviet invasion. Amir, the son of a wealthy Afghan businessman, and Hassan, a servant to Amir and his father, are as close as any two friends can be. While Amir wants for nothing (except the approval of his father), Hassan lives a meager but happy existence. The two spend their days running through the streets of Kabul, watching imported American Western films, telling stories to each other and flying kites – an important cultural tradition.

Amir and his father have a complicated relationship stemming from his father’s desire for a a son with a stronger backbone. His disapproval of Amir’s ambition to become a writer, rather than a doctor, creates within Amir the desire to do anything to win his father’s heart. Hassan, on the other hand, is everything Amir’s father approves of in a boy: loyal, honest, strong and brave. The pride Amir senses his father has in Hassan strikes a chord of jealousy within Amir.

During a kite-flying tournament, an unspeakable event changes the nature of their relationship forever. When Amir makes the decision to walk away from Hassan during his time of need, a deep sense of cowardice and shame takes root within him. With his secret close at heart, Amir makes one poor decision after another, widening the chasm between him and those he loves.

With the onset of the Soviet invasion, Amir and his father flee to the United States to make a new life.

Years later, Amir is called back to his war-torn native country. There he seeks redemption and a chance to be good again while overcoming the shame of his past.

Because movies can sometimes reach a wider audience than books, I’m glad that “The Kite Runner” will be facing a whole new audience with this production. However, it didn’t keep me from worrying what the transition to the screen would do to it.

Thankfully, I can report that the silver screen adaptation is one of the better book-to-film transitions I’ve seen. There aren’t any major changes to the plot, with the exception of change-by-omission found primarily at the end.

As with any film adaptation, there was plenty of material from the book that found its way to the cutting room floor or never filmed at all due to time constraints. In an effort to make a succinct and faithful version of the book, the film does leave out quite a bit of underlying plot and even a few big scenes.

I think the rationale behind these omissions was that the story doesn’t lose enough to justify the extra time it would take to include them.

What it loses in plot, however, it gains in the strength of the actors and the addition of visual aids. While the stunning views of countryside (filmed in China) add a reality to the story that a book may have a more difficult time portraying, it is the actors who three-dimensionalize the story. Adult Amir is portrayed by Khalid Abdalla, who takes on the largest acting burden in the film. His strength lies particularly in his ability to convey a deep current of emotions lying just under the surface of a wordless expression. Abdalla does a commendable job portraying the adult whose past still haunts him after more than two decades.

Perhaps the biggest surprise of the film for me was the remarkable job done by both actors playing young Amir (Zekeria Ebrahimi) and young Hassan (Ahmad Khan Mahmidzada). This is the first film for both Ebrahimi and Mahmidzada who are Afghanistan natives. Their ability to portray the roles exactly as Hosseini’s novel described is a credit to both the children and director Marc Forster – who also directed “Stranger Than Fiction” and “Finding Neverland” among others.

Much of the film’s dialogue is in Dari Persian with English subtitles, with English being spoken some throughout, which only added to the realism of the film. As an aside, watch for a cameo by author Khaled Hosseini in the last scene of the film.

If you’ve read “The Kite Runner” and are hesitant that the film won’t do it justice, think again. Forster and crew do an exceptional job remaining faithful to the original work, and I’m thankful for it. And if you haven’t read the novel, then get out to theaters while you still have a chance to see this remarkable story.


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