Usually a reliable filmmaker, Mark Forster hits his first bump in the road as a director with The Kite Runner. It happens to the best of us. Forster’s take on the acclaimed novel by Khaled Hosseini isn’t bad, but it falls into that insignificant, middle-of-the-road category. It has a big heart, but it doesn’t just miss its target, it’s not pointing in the right direction to begin with. From the first ten minutes, you can tell something is off. There’s a hint of banality in the air. You get the feeling that everyone from Forster’s cast and crew aren’t giving you their best effort. The writing is manipulative, the dialogue is trite, the film lacks profundity, and it fails to hit home at every chance; which all adds up to one giant, missed opportunity.
While celebrating his first published novel with his wife Soraya (Atossa Leoni), Amir (Khalid Abdalla), who grew up in Kabul, Afghanistan and immigrated to the U.S., gets a phone call from old friend Rahim (Shaun Toub), telling him to return to Kabul on an important matter. We flash back to 1978 and meet Amir as a child (Zekeria Ebrahimi), whose best friend Hassan (Ahmad Khan Mahmidzada) lives and serves on the property owned by Amir’s father, Baba (Homayon Ershadi). Most of the flashback, which takes up a significant portion of the film, depicts the rapport between Amir and Hassan and then tells how the two were separated when Communists invaded Afghanistan. The adult Amir, now in the year 2000, learns that Hassan has died and that his son was taken by the Taliban. Amir ventures into war-torn Kabul to find Hassan’s son and bring him back to the U.S. were he can live as a free person.
When child actors fail to impress me, referring to Zekeria Ebrahimi and Ahmad Khan Mahmidzada as Amir and Hassan of course, I usually put the blame on the director. After all, they’re just kids and they are the responsibility of the director. Instead of capturing the realistic bond of two young companions, the performances come off as melodramatic. The chintzy dialogue isn’t helping them out either. “For you, a thousand times over” is a platitude we can do without.
The performance from Homayon Ershadi as Amir’s father reminded me of Irfan Khan’s performance in The Namesake and is almost equally impressive. Shaun Toub as Rahim foots the bill as Baba’s closest friend and someone who provides much needed council for Amir as he is going through some of the most troublesome stages in his early life. Finally, as the adult Amir, Khalid Abdalla proves to be one of the film’s biggest assets and he effortlessly holds the audience’s attention. When he’s in the picture, there’s not much to dislike about The Kite Runner. The banality is still in the air, yes, but at least now viewers have a strong lead performance to work with. The problem is, Abdalla is underused.
The Kite Runner is inevitably undone by it’s histrionic script and there are a number of tiny flaws that add up to a great big one. I already discussed the dialogue so I’ll move on to structure. Act I, which shows Amir and Hassan as kids, is dragged out (taking up nearly half the movie) and left me lukewarm. You’d expect the part about Amir finding out about Hassan’s death to come no later than 45 minutes into the picture but this actually happens almost 90 minutes into it (the film has a 127 minute running time). And so the best part of the film, where Amir is attempting to rescue Hassan’s son, comes far too late. Before that point I was struggling to keep an interest. Perhaps if the script had been tighter, the movie would have gotten to the point sooner and Forster would have been free to roam the landscape and explore the differences of Kabul in the year 2000 compared to 1978. As Amir points out, “I’m a stranger in my own country.” We don’t get enough of elements like this in The Kite Runner.
There are things to like about the film. For example, the sequence in which Amir and Hassan are competing in a kite flying competition is well visualized and gorgeous to look at. There are some fine performances by unknown actors to be found as well. Unfortunately the picture is only good in spurts and lackluster in stretches. In terms of scope, this is the biggest project Forster has taken on so far and so I’m a little skeptical about how the next Bond film will turn out. Maybe the problem is that he has set too high of a standard for himself. Again, The Kite Runner is far from a bad movie, but coming from such a consistently good director, you just expect better.