Yes, it's a Hollywood film with subtitles, but far from being puffed up with self-importance, The Kite Runner is a simple, down to earth story of good versus evil. Basic themes of loyalty and integrity resonate more than the film's constantly shifting political landscape of Afghanistan which serves as backdrop. And whilst some of the vivid detail in Khalid Hosseini's best-selling novel does get lost in translation, director Marc Forster hits all the emotional high notes.
Life is good before the Soviet invasion in 1979, especially for the young Amir (Zekeria Ebrahimi) whose father (Homayoun Ershadi) is a wealthy merchant. Amir doesn't have many friends though, except for the servant's son Hassan (Ahmad Khan Mahmidzada) - a minority Sh'ia Muslim. Hassan proves a faithful ally when they're accosted by racist bullies, but in a later incident of shocking violence, Amir fails to stand by his friend. The episode haunts him for years, even after emigrating to America. It's only when the Taliban seizes power in Kabul that Amir - older and a touch wiser (Khalid Abdalla) - dares to return and lay the past to rest.
"DIRECT BLOWS HIT THE HARDEST"
With the enveloping description of life in Afghanistan relegated to background set dressing, the flaws in Hosseini's book are pushed to the foreground. The goodies are impossibly good and the turban-donning baddies you may suspect have grown their beards just for ominous twiddling. Also, the finale relies heavily on coincidence, jarring with the raw and very brutal realism preceding it. Those direct blows hit the hardest; Disturbing scenes of a child in peril, especially one as guileless as Hassan, instantly tug the heartstrings. Mahmidzada is charming in the role and has a great rapport with Ebrahimi, who manages to inspire sympathy even in his brattier moments. Despite a few contrivances, it's easy to get swept up in their plight and, in view of sickening human atrocities, to cheer that soaring spirit of youthful optimism.
The Kite Runner is out in the UK on 26th December 2007.