Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The Kite Runner (Forster, 2007)

The Kite Runner
Directed by Marc Forster
Starring: Khalid Abdalla, Zekeria Ebrahimi, Shaun Toub, Ahmad Khan Mahmidzada, Atossa Leoni
Grade: D

Last month I wrote about the dated but admittedly endearing, and certainly cleverly expressed, ideas of Alan Menken's Enchanted. When I say 'dated', I don't mean that simple values such as love, respect, or honour no longer exist, because of course they do, but that films have moved on from feeling the need to re-iterate this every five minutes. Or at least some have. Marc Forster's The Kite Runner is one that can't help itself but purport the importance of friendship, loyalty and redemption at every snaking of its meager narrative, and one that uses heavily serious issues to do so.

The early attempts at warming the cockles of your heart come through the honest, cute childhood friendship between Afghani boys Amir and Hassan, and are admittedly successful. It's at this point that the nostalgic kite elements are established, ironic as the film hardly aims for the skies, and all is going swimmingly. But when Hassan is sexually assaulted their friendship quickly disintegrates, and the two go their separate ways, prompting the film to shift twenty or so years to Amir's new life as an author in America.

This adaptation of Khaled Hosseini's best-seller ensures that Atonement is not the only film this year essentially about atonement, schematically giving Amir countless reasons as to why he should assuage his guilt, and rescue Hassan's son from the Taliban. Among these: Hassan's death, the impending death of his father, and the revelation that Hassan was actually his brother, making the boy in question his nephew. Somewhere amidst this is a guilt that his creative, quiet personality was never dynamic enough for his father, which is perhaps the deepest The Kite Runner gets to the root of any of its problems, but certainly does not explain why he then suddenly transforms into John Wayne in The Searchers.

The Kite Runner strains in every scene to make something symbolic or meaningful, but doesn't provide any cultural insight whatsoever, and can't manage to create a story convincing enough to live up to the touching central friendship of the boys. It doesn't show any respect towards the hugely serious issues that it brings up, such as rape, terrorism and paedofilia, skirting across them as if they be mere hurdles in a systematic fairytale, convenient and easily-amended. So much of the film wants us to feel some kind of sentimental attachment or recognise some form of achievement, and yet have no lingering remembrance of how, or any depth of knowledge as to why its characters have behaved in the way that they have. It is so offensively simple, using an act of rape in a thoughtless and careless manner, settling for an appalled reaction to its events rather than a consideration of their significance or impact.

Visually striking, The Kite Runner definitely has direction, and you get the impression that the filmmakers understand the story enough, but their efforts are uncontrollably overblown, to the point where their constant seeking of approval becomes distasteful and desperate. In this way Forster and co. feel more like salesmen than filmmakers, ones with banal, disinteresting junk in their inventory, but content to barter their way to the bitter end to offload it.

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