Monday, April 21, 2008

Monday Movie Review: The Kite Runner

The Kite Runner (2007) 8/10
Amir (Khalid Abdalla) and Hassan (Ahmad Khan Mahmidzada) grew up together as boys in Afghanistan. Now, a young writer in California, Amir returns to Afghanistan to pick up loose ends left behind. Directed by Marc Forster.

The problem with heartwarming movies, or indeed any drama that looks back to childhood, is that it is hard to create a preview that doesn't make it seem like one of "those" heartwarming movies. You know what I mean; where you sit there in the theater and think, "Oh, no, it's heartwarming. Guess I'll skip it." This movie reeked of that sort of heartwarming, the preview tugged at sentiment shamelessly. But it was also widely praised, and since Marc Forster is directing the next Bond movie, I was interested in seeing some more of his work. I'm glad I did.

First of all, The Kite Runner is a movie that reminds me how much I long for a Best Titles Oscar. So many great title designers, from Saul Bass to Maurice Binder, have gone sadly unrecognized. The title designer for this film is uncredited as such (there are all these credits for graphic design and animation design and other visuals, and I can't tell who is who) but the flow of Arabic script into English language and back again sets an unforgettable mood.

The movie is nothing like what I expected, because the boys are nothing like what I expected, and most of the film is spent with them. Amir (played as a boy by Zekeria Ebrahimi) is the son of Baba, a wealthy intellectual (Homayoun Ershadi). Hassan is the son of Baba's servant. Hassan is fierce, Amir timid, and Baba is ashamed of Amir's timidity. He wants Amir to be brave, and as the boy's life unfolds, bravery will be required of him.

Rarely in films do we see bravery fail when it is desperately needed. Heroes may be allowed to show cowardice, but in the crucial moment, they will come through. In a crucial moment in his life, though, Amir runs away. It's devastating to see, and it's devastating to see how he behaves afterwards, how he will do anything to cover up his shame.

When Russia invades Afghanistan, Baba and Amir escape to America, leaving Hassan and his family behind. It is in California that the adult Amir's story is told, and to a certain extent, this weakens the movie; the boys are simply more interesting. But eventually (as you saw in the preview, if indeed you saw it), Amir is called back to Afghanistan by an uncle. Hassan is long dead but his son is in need and only Amir can help him.

Even typing the plot makes it sound cliché, but it's not, it's just simple. It's straightforward in plotting because the real story is happening behind the scenes; with Amir as he is forced to wonder if he will ever find his own courage. Some unnecessary back story is given to Amir to help motivate him, but ultimately we have a delayed coming of age story rich in a culture alien to most Americans and free of too much plotty encumberance.

(Cross-posted without clever captioning.)