As any good film, “The Kite Runner” is a conglomeration of many things, and yet, to its credit, it holds well together. It’s a contemporary historical saga about Afghanistan and immigrants from there to the Bay Area, a family drama of great intensity, the story of friendships and enmities and of a boy becoming a man (in more ways than one), a psychological melodrama and more.
This complex interplay of creators coming from different places is superimposed on a cast of two dozen nationalities, all trained to speak authentic dialects of multi-ethnic Afghanistan (Pashto, Persian, Hazaragi, Uzbek, Turkmen). A letter-perfect Kabul (in its pre-invasion splendor and Taliban-destroyed desolation) is filmed in western China — a stunning accomplishment by the production team.
“The Kite Runner” opens and closes with the spectacle of colorful kites flying over San Francisco Bay. The story begins in 2000. Amir (Khalid Abdalla) is a writer who escaped as a child from Afghanistan as the country was being invaded by the Soviet Union in 1979. He and his wife (Atossa Leoni) are now successful Americans; they fully belong in their new country. Yet when a call comes from an old family friend for Amir to up and fly to Pakistan (and proceed to Taliban-ruled Kabul), he obeys the call of obligation and honor.
For the rest of the story, see the movie. Even a narrative this well handled would suffer from too much advance information. (If you read the book, chances are you will enjoy its faithful translation to the screen.)
The production is amazing, melding many components seamlessly.
Abdalla, brilliant here and in “United 93,” was born in Scotland, of Egyptian parents. He studied English literature at Cambridge. He sounds native, but his authentic use of several Afghan dialects is the result of months of hard cramming. He, the rest of the large cast — some professionals, some first-time actors — and the big production crew spent a challenging time in the western Chinese desert, but came out as winners. As Amir’s father, Homayoun Ershadi also gives a striking performance.
Earnest, high-minded and well-made, “The Kite Runner” has everything but the sense of creative freedom and emotional spontaneity that characterize great films.
Yet it is a big, important work, likely to be well received by critics and audiences. It is a heroic tale of an all-too-real, reluctant hero. In a huge, desperate regional upheaval, the turmoil in one man’s heart remains center stage, but never diminishing the larger world around him.
The Kite Runner ***
Starring Khalid Abdalla, Shaun Toub, Homayoun Ershadi, Atossa Leoni Soraya, Ali Danish Bakhtyari
Written by David Benioff based on the book by Khaled Hosseini
Directed by Marc Forster
Running time: 2 hours, 2 minutes