Directed by Marc Foster | 127 min. | PG-13 | Starring: Khalid Abdalla, Homayoun Ershadi, Shaun Toub, Atossa Leoni, Said Taghmaoui, Ahmad Khan Mahmidzada
Amir (Khalid Abdalla) a married Afghani immigrant in San Francisco is thrilled to receive a shipment of his first book in print. The moment is shattered by a phone call from Rahim Kahn (Shaun Toub), a family friend who calls him back home saying cryptically, "There is a way to make it good again."
A flashback takes us to Amir's childhood in the last peaceful days of the Afghani monarchy. The son of a prominent secularist businessman young Amir (Zekeria Ebrahimi) and his best friend Hassan(Ahmad Khan Mahmidzada) his servant, are constant companions. Amir, a timid boy, is often defended by Hassan against local bullies, getting himself injured in the process, a fact which doesn't escape Amir's Baba (his father, played by Homayoun Ershad) who wishes Amir would learn to stand up for something.
Hassan, who is illiterate, admires Amir for his storytelling ability, asking him to read traditional Afghan tales. It's an unequal friendship, but Hassan in his fierce loyalty to Amir, doesn't care, he's content to dwell in Amir's shadow, as the pair passionately pursue kite flying, the Afghani national pastime. Hassan doesn't fly the kite; his role is that of the kite runner, or the one who fetches the downed kite from an air battle, where the string of an opponent's kite is cut. Amir says that Hassan has an uncanny ability to sense where the kite was overhead without looking up, by merely following its shadow on the ground.
On the day of the kite flying championship, Amir, anxious to impress his Baba, is thrilled to be the winner, with the last kite in the air. Hassan runs for the kite, and is cornered by the local thugs, lead by Assef (Elam Ehsas). Hassan refuses to give up the kite, which is a trophy for his friend, and is raped by Assef. Amir, to his enduring shame, has witnessed the entire incident but fails to rescue his friend. To cover up his shame, Amir attempts to distance himself from Hassan with anger. Ali, Hassan's father(Nabi Tanha) concerned about his son's depression, tries to get him to open up, but Hassan denies that anything is wrong.
Amir refuses to divulge his dark secret to Rahim Kahn, a friend of his father with whom he shares his stories, Kahn knows something is amiss, but doesn't pressure him. Amir is despondent, yet pushes Hassan away even further, by accusing him of stealing his watch. It is touching to see that Baba quickly forgives Hassan, who takes the blame, yet his father Ali chooses to leave his position as the family servant, taking Hassan with him. The Russian invasion forces Amir and his father to flee to relative obscurity and poverty in California. His Baba never loses his dignity despite the dangers of the trip and the ignominy of working at a gas station to support his son. Amir pursues his education and tries to forget the past as he falls in love with and wins the hand of Soraya (Alossa Leoni) the beautiful daughter of a prominent Afghan general.
An engaging plot draws one into the heretofore foreign world of Afghani culture by the immediacy of the human drama. The theme of atonement is emerging as a popular one in Oscar-nominated films this year; lead characters, angst-ridden with the consequences of their moral failings, strive to set things right, or "make it good again". Amir's melancholy despite his publishing success seems incongruous until his childhood secret unveils the reason behind the pain in his eyes. A pivotal scene takes place in a mosque, where Amir, pursuing Hassan's son, answers the call to prayer, repents of his sin and makes his peace with Allah. This repentance gives him the moral courage to face the shadows of his past, which now include the Taliban, holding his beloved homeland in an iron grip.
The role of an admirable father in the character development of a son is an uncommon theme and puts a human face on what could have been simply an action film. Set against a bland landscape of desert beige, blue skies, and distant mountains, the vibrant emotions of the men in The Kite Runner paint a vivid canvas. This is a masculine film in the mold of Braveheart, where tests of character amidst wrenching tragedy create a deeply moving drama which is hard to watch, and equally hard to forget. This is a truly Oscar-worthy film which haunts the memory long afterwards.
The central man-boy rape scene with partial nudity, though not particularly graphic, is quite disturbing. Adultery and rape are later implied in the film. There is a depiction of a Taliban-style stoning in a stadium and a brutal beating. This film is highly recommended, but for mature adults only.
Leticia Velasquez is a regular film reviewer for MercatorNet. She writes from New York.