Unless you are familiar with Khaled Hosseini's 2003 best selling novel of the same name, odds are that you are most familiar with "The Kite Runner" due to the widely publicized controversy surrounding its delayed release.
The film, directed by Marc Forster ("Finding Neverland" and "Monster's Ball"), was delayed by Paramount Classics after it became public knowledge that a rape scene involving one of the two young boys in the cast had stirred some degree of outrage in the film's setting of Afghanistan. Out of concern for the boy's safety, "The Kite Runner" has had its release delayed six weeks until December 14th to allow the young boy to finish the school year and, perhaps, to come to the United States.
This unexpected controversy, at least as Forster would explain it, has created a greater awareness about "The Kite Runner," a difficult to market film utilizing an all Mid-Eastern cast and consistent use of subtitles throughout the film when the characters speak in the Dari dialect.
"The Kite Runner" begins in San Francisco in 2000 by introducing us to the adult Amir (Khalid Abdalla), whose pre-Taliban Kabul childhood is the focus of much of the film.
We quickly travel back to 1978 Afghanistan, where a young Amir (Zekiria Ebrahimi) lives with his rebellious widowed father (Homayoun Ershadi). His best friend and servant Hassan (Ahmad Khan Mahmoodzada) is one of Kabul's most famous kite runners, and the two boys spend most of their days playing with each other and entering city kite-running tournaments. Hassan, a member of the minority trible in Afghanistan, is attacked and raped one day by a group of boys from the majority tribe who are jealous of Hassan and his kite-running. Amir, much to his own shame, does not intervene and Hassan himself does not reveal the attack.
Eventually, Amir and his father end up in the United States and we flash forward again to an adult Amir receiving a telephone call from Hassan stating "You should come home. There is a way to be good again."
The story that follows is one of an adult trying to make right the overwhelming wrong he committed as a child.
As Roger Ebert pointed out, "The Kite Runner" is equal to Forster's "Monster's Ball" in its emotional impact. While the film also carries the remarkable beauty of Forster's Oscar-nominated "Finding Neverland," the film's true power lies in the emotional depth of the characters and the barebones way in which Forster presents a post-Taliban Afghanistan that is suspenseful and menacing but never completely devoid of the innocence and wonder from the boy's past.
Fans of Hosseini's novel are likely to be a tad disappointed as, could be expected, David Benioff's screenplay reduces the novel to its major themes while merely glossing over so many of the fine details that left Hosseini's readers captivated by the book.
The kite flying and running is, indeed, rather magical throughout the film, though it is just a touch over-utilized for its overt symbolism in the lives of the young boys.
Mahmoodzada, the young boy for whom the film's U.S. release has been delayed, is quite remarkable as Hassan. Mahmoodzada's natural presence comfortable silence lends an almost grievous aura to his character that becomes overwhelming at times. Ebrahimi, as well, beautifully encapsulates the region's class differences and the two boys together share a remarkable chemistry.
Abdalla shines as the adult Amir, only faltering on those occasions when the script, much like Hosseini's novel, lacks believability. Similarly, Ershadi shines as Amir's father and Shaun Toub adds a tremendous spark as Rahim Khan.
The production design for "The Kite Runner" is quite stunning, though there are times that the kite-running itself is obviously digital effects. This obvious visual weakness detracts from the film's authenticity, while Alberto Iglesias' intrusive score occasionally pushes the film into unnecessary histrionics.
"The Kite Runner" was the closing night screening for the 2007 Heartland Film Festival in Indianapolis, and played to two sold-out audiences who were obviously deeply moved by the experience as person after person was seen wiping away tears as they left the theatre.
While the widely publicized child rape in the film cannot and should not be dismissed, it's important to note that the scene itself is far from graphic and "The Kite Runner" maintained its PG-13 rating despite the inclusion of the scene. While such a scene would be challenging to explain to younger audience members, such a scene could easily open the door to discussions about cultural understanding, violence, friendship and, perhaps, even bullying.
While "The Kite Runner" is unlikely to make my Top 10 List for 2007, it is easily one of 2007's most inspiring and rewarding cinematic experiences.