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THE KITE RUNNER

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Khalid Abdalla, Homayoun Ershadi, Atossa Leoni, Said Taghmaoui
Director: Marc Forster
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio: Dreamworks
Features: See Review
Length: 127 Minutes
Release Date: March 25, 2008

ďThere is a way to be good again, Amir.Ē

Film ****

Of all the recent high-profile film translations of popular novels, The Kite Runner has been regarded as one of the very best, along with Sean Pennís Into the Wild. Having seen the film version, Iíve come to the conclusion that it has to be, despite having not read the book. The story is one that is both heartbreaking and uplifting, not to mention personal, so no screenwriter in the right mind would dare dishonor this particular source material.

Thankfully, author Khaled Hosseini has allowed his acclaimed best seller to be adapted by the right screenwriter and filmmaker. Director Marc Forster (Monsterís Ball, Stranger Than Fiction) and screenwriter David Benioff (25th Hour) have translated the book to film in every right possible way, that itís clear that this work will dare not be translated to film again, like so many popular novels. Any future attempt to do so would now be a true injustice.

I had heard of The Kite Runner only by name prior to the filmís release. I had no idea what the story was about, until I first saw the trailer for the film and heard all of the critical acclaim. But even though I caught a glimpse of what the film was going to be, I wasnít prepared for what a riveting and emotionally draining story this would turn out to be.

The film begins in California. Amir (Khalid Abdalla) is about to establish a career as an author. He is enjoying a quiet and pleasant life alongside his wife, Soraya (Atossa Leoni).

Then Amir receives a most unexpected phone call from his closest friend, Hassan (Shaun Toub), in Afghanistan. The phone conversation is brief. All Hassan asks of Amir is to return to his home country and perform a crucial favor for him.

Amir hesitates at first, but agrees. And then as the story flashes back twenty years earlier, to when Amir and Hassan were just innocent kids, events unfold which will illustrate why Amir must answer to his friendís favor later in life. Once the story cuts back 20 years later, you come to the conclusion that Amir has no choice but to answer his friendís request.

We see Amir and Hassan as kids in the city of Kabul in 1978, in the days prior to the Russians invasion of Afghanistan. We learn that Amir is the son of a wealthy landowner, while Hassan is the son of a servant. But differences in class donít mean a thing to the boys who share one common love, kite flying.

Amirís father, Baba (Homayoun Ershadi), senses a weakness in his son in that he doesnít seem to stand up for himself or for what is considered right. This weakness is proven true when Amir witness from afar an unthinkable act committed towards Hassan by some neighborhood bullies. Amir canít find the courage to save his friend, and out of sheer panic runs away from the scene.

From that moment in his life, Amir feels like the worst possible kind of coward. Added to the matter is the notion that Hassan had never once blamed Amir for turning his back. So now when we cut to Amir twenty years later, we understand why he is soft-spoken man of very few words, he is simply ashamed of what he didnít do.

So Amir engages on a personal mission, as he revisits his homeland and reunites with his Hassan. The favor that is asked of Amir involves the rescue of Hassanís son, who is being held captive. Amir, without hesitation, agrees to his friendís request, as it will no doubt repay the personal debt he owes.

The performances in the film are ones that will stay with you long after you watch it. At the heart of it is a most passionate performance by Khalid Abdalla, who played the lead terrorist in United 93 and very memorably. He captures the absolute perfect tone for the adult and emotionally restraint Amir. After seeing his work in these two different films, I find Abdalla to be a charismatic talent and I look forward to seeing him in future films. There is also strong supporting work from Homayoun Ershadi as Amirís father, and Shaun Toub as the adult Hassan. Toub you may recognize as the Persian storeowner in Crash.

The Kite Runner is a film made out of pure passion, just like the book upon which it was based. Itís a film experience that is incredibly rewarding. Itís difficult to watch at times, especially if you arenít prepared for numerous story details, and you will be emotionally drained by the filmís end, but it carries themes that so many of us can relate to. I dare anyone who sees this film to think this wasnít one of the most powerful films theyíve ever seen.

Video ****

This is a most beautiful looking film, and the video presentation provided by Dreamworks makes it all the more effective. The anamorphic picture is thoroughly clean and crisp, with bold and beautiful colors to boot. The authentic settings, especially that of Afghanistan, come off looking nothing short of extraordinary. A tremendous job well done!

Audio ***

The 5.1 mix brings quite a bit to a mostly dialogue driven piece. Of course, the standout piece of the presentation is the Oscar nominated score by Alberto Iglesias (sadly the only oscar nod the film received), which sounds incredible and works the channels terrifically. Dialogue delivery is as top notch as can be, and several sequences set in war-torn areas do deliver some effective bits of surround sound.

Features ***

Featured on this Dreamworks release is a commentary track with director Marc Forster, novelist Khaled Hosseini and screenwriter David Benioff. There are also two very well handled featurettes; ďWords from The Kite RunnerĒ and ďImages from The Kite RunnerĒ, both of which display the pure passion of everyone involved with the film. Lastly, there is a PSA from Khaled Hosseini, a Theatrical Trailer and several Bonus Previews for additional Paramount/Dreamworks releases.

Summary:

The Kite Runner, aside from being one of the most powerful movie experiences Iíve ever had, will be quite a rarity in the fact that you wonít hear any complaints about how the film was translated to film, which is hardly ever the case. Itís a film you will be absorbed by from beginning to end, and is a story that deserves to be shared with the world.

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