The Kite Runner is based on that rarity in the literary world. A first novel that displays a moving emotional story with a narrative assurance that is extremely rare even in the work of seasoned novelists. It is a book that manages to educate the reader in the historical background of a nation that is far removed from our own, as well as provide a story that can have you wincing with horror one moment, and crying with pure emotion the next.
When it comes to producing the film version, the barriers were immense. Dealing, as it does, with the Taliban occupation of Afghanistan, and the events that happened before the Russian occupation, the potential for trouble is obvious. Add into the mix a plot that pivots on the traumatic rape of a young boy, you have a film that needs a sure and delicate hand at the helm.
When it was announced that this hand was going to belong to Marc Forster, I must admit I had my doubts. This was a man who in the past had not always displayed the realistic, gritty style of filmmaking that I felt the story demanded. His take on the life of J M Barrie (Finding Neverland) was extremely disappointing - bearing no relation to the actual events, and I also found Monster's Ball to be rather stodgy. However, maybe it is a truism that every director has at least one masterpiece inside him - because The Kite Runner is a triumph of a film.
The film opens in Afghanistan as it was before the Russian Invasion. The streets of Kabul are a vibrant cacophony, full of colour and life. Amir is a young boy living in the city. He comes from a life of privilege - his Baba (father) owning a beautiful house, and bankrolling several big projects within the city. The family have a servant team - a father and son, Ali and Hassan. The two have been in the family's service for many years - with Amir and Hassan being inseparable friends. They go to the movies together, and Amir who loves literature, reads to the illiterate Hassan.
Kabul of that time, however, was subject to racial divides. This is evident in the persecution that the boys suffer at the hands of Assef, a boy who hates Hassan because he is a Hazara - a Mongol descended race who settled in Afghanistan. One day, after a Kite tournament (where rival flyers compete to cut the strings of each other's kites when flying) Hassan runs to fetch Amir's kite. Sadly Assef catches up with him, and when he stays blindly loyal to Amir and his kite, he is raped. Amir, hiding, watches the event but cannot bring himself to help.
Tormented with grief, Amir persecutes Hassan from them on, and eventually commits an act which leads to the resignation of Ali and Hassan. Shortly afterwards, the Russian's invade and Amir and his Baba escape to the USA. It is there, that Amir receives a telephone call telling him that there is a way to atone for his acts. “There is a way to be good again”.
The director seems to really feel an affinity with the source material, and he remains amazingly faithful to his source material. The dialogue is often lifted straight from the book, and the plot follows the source faithfully, apart from one key scene that is omitted completely. I will not say what it is, as it will spoil things. This means that the film seems to be immaculately paced - taking just the right amount of time to tell its story - never dragging and never feeling rushed.
Central to the film is the collection of astounding performances from every single member of the cast. I don't think I have seen a film for a long time which is so perfect in its casting. From the two lead roles of Ali and Hassan as boys, through to a truly mesmerising performance of Homayoun Ershadi as Baba there is not one performance that does not truly encapsulate what one would imagine after reading the book. The result is that you get totally immersed in the world that is being portrayed, truly feeling the emotions of the characters.
The Kite Runner is not an easy film to watch. It may end with redemption of sorts, but the characters go through an awful lot on the way to the end, and the majority of them do not emerge well from the story. There are moments of shocking violence, and the rape itself (although subtle) is a very disturbing scene indeed. There are also intensely sad moments - be warned that this hard hearted reviewer found himself in tears when watching this in the cinema, the first time in at least five years that a film has achieved that. The film deals with deep issues - family divides, a race displaced, racial discrimination, child abuse, religious terrorism, but it is to Forster's credit that he manages to find many light moments within the dark themes as well.
His direction is always assured, whether displaying the vibrancy of pre-occupation Kabul, or present day Pakistan, and contrasting these with Eighties America, and Taliban occupied Kabul. He knows exactly when to linger on emotion, and exactly when to introduce a more light hearted touch. He draws breathtaking performances from his cast, and directs with an assured touch.
I am always wary of hyperbole, but having watched this film at the cinema and now on DVD - I can honestly say that this is the best film of the year so far, and easily one of my top ten film of all times. If you can stomach it (and not all can) then it is a film that will move you in many ways - and you cannot ask more than that. Forster has produced his masterpiece - and it will be interesting to see how he follows this.
Our Review Ethos