The Kite Runner

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Director Marc Forster's highly effective and straightforward adaptation of Khaled Hosseini's international best-seller "The Kite Runner" already has garnered news because of a rape scene involving one of its young actors. That has resulted in a delay of its theatrical release. But the controversy aside, the film is a faithful rendition of a beloved book that should garner critical and award recognition and the attention of discerning audiences.

The story is told in three distinct sections. The first, set in 1978 Afghanistan, concerns the fateful friendship of two young boys: Amir (Zekeria Ebrahimi), who lives with his sophisticated, well-heeled widower father Baba (Homayoun Ershadi), and Hassan (Ahmad Khan Mahmidzada), the son of his father's faithful servant. The two 12-year-olds share a close bond, thanks to their common love of American action movies and kite flying.

But when Hassan runs afoul of some neighborhood bullies and subsequently is sexually violated by one of them -- Forster films this scene in a discreet but effective manner -- Amir is too frightened to intervene and keeps silent afterward. This failure to act haunts him throughout the years, even after he and his father have relocated to California in the aftermath of the Soviet invasion.

Cut to a decade later, when the now-adult Amir (Khalid Abdalla) is an aspiring writer and his father is a gas-station attendant. When Amir meets the daughter (Atossa Leoni) of another Afghan expatriate, the pair fall in love and get married after an old-fashioned arranged courtship.

In the last section, set in 2000, Amir is now a published author and happy, despite the death of his father and the couple's childlessness. But his contentment is interrupted by a call from an old family friend (Shaun Toub) who informs him that the now-deceased Hassan had a young son (Ali Dinesh) who was abandoned to an orphanage. The still-guilt-ridden Amir thus travels to the now dangerous city of Kabul in order to rescue the boy, who bears an unexpected connection to him, and bring him to America.

Benioff's faithful if necessarily condensed screenplay adaptation handles well the book's complex narrative and is particularly effective in its sensitive middle portrait of its culturally dislocated characters. If the melodramatic final section, in which Amir personally encounters the violent horrors of the Taliban regime, feels rushed and not entirely convincing, the sheer dramatic force of the events compensates for its contrived elements.

With the not-surprising exception of the lyrical kite-flying sequences, Forster's direction is understated and all the more effective for it. He also has elicited wonderfully naturalistic performances from his trio of child actors, as well as from the low-key but highly effective Abdalla in the lead role and the effortlessly charismatic and commanding Ershadi as the highly principled father.

The film feels totally convincing in all its technical aspects, including its use of Chinese locations to double for the story's Afghan setting.

THE KITE RUNNER
Paramount Classics
DreamWorks Pictures
Sidney Kimmel Entertainment
and Participant Prods. present
a Sidney Kimmel Entertainment,
MacDonald/Parkes production
Credits:
Director: Marc Forster
Screenwriter: David Benioff
Producers: William Horberg, Walter F. Parkes, Rebecca Yeldham, E. Bennet Walsh
Executive producers: Sidney Kimmel, Laurie MacDonald, Sam Mendes, Jeff Skoll
Director of photography: Roberto Schaefer
Production designer: Carlos Conti
Music: Alberto Iglesias
Costume designer: Frank Fleming
Editor: Matt Chesse
Cast:
Amir: Khalid Abdalla
Baba: Homayoun Ershadi
Young Amir: Zekeria Ebrahimi
Young Hassan: Ahmad Khan Mahmidzada
Rahim Khan: Shaun Toob
Ali: Nabi Tanha
Sohrab: Ali Dinesh
Farid: Said Taghmaoui
Soraya: Atossa Leoni.
MPAA rating: PG-13
Running time -- 122 minutes.

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