Wednesday, January 9, 2008
QUICK REVIEW: THE KITE RUNNER
Marc Forster's THE KITE RUNNER (***) is a film that works well enough but might have been better had it been longer. It's a beautifully shot and produced film that aspires to greatness at nearly every turn but in the end it falls a little short. It's engaging without becoming fully engrossing, smart enough but a little heavy-handed, and a bit soapy in its story details. Based on the immensely popular best-selling novel, David Benioff's squarely imagined screenplay bounces back and forth between America, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, spanning over 20 years. Amir and Hassan are childhood friends in Afghanistan; Amir is the son of an influential businessman and Hassan is the son of the family servant. They spend their days flying kites (rather competitively) with the other children in their villiage. Truth be told, the most thrilling aspects of this relatively flat film are the kite flying sequences; dazzled up with some nifty CGI enhanced camera moves, the kite flying bits represent the only true artisitc and emotional triumph of the film. The boys, prisoners in their homeland, are able to use the kite flying as a spiritual form of escape, whether or not they even know it at first. Then, in a moment of pure cruelty and dramatic necessity, Hassan is raped, while Amir watches from a distance, never working up the courage to help his friend. Amir's father Baba, the excellent actor Homayoun Ershadi, has always instilled decency and moral value in his son; the guilt that Amir holds over not helping his friend is too much for him to bear. So he falsely accuses Hassan of theft, and Hassan and his father leave the house. We then abruptly shift to the Russian invasion of Afghanistan, with Amir and Baba on the run to Pakistan as refugees. We then cut almost 20 years later, with a now adult Amir living in the San Francisco area. He meets a beautiful young Afghan woman named Soraya (Atossa Leoni) and he courts her. They marry and life is good. But then Amir receives a phone call from Afghanistan with news that compels him to go back to the Middle East. It's here where THE KITE RUNNER gets a little over-the-top in its rushed plotting and slightly implausible finale. This is why I think that the book was probably much better. The film runs a tight two hours, and at certain points along the way, I felt that the story seemed truncated and a bit underdeveloped. Had the film taken its time and not felt so forced it would have made for a better end result. The acting is solid across the board; the kids are natural and charming. And as I stated above, the physical qualities of the filmmaking are very assured. Shooting China for Afghanistan, Forster and his longtime cinematographer Roberto Schaefer drench the film in beautiful sunlight, period flavor and ethnic authenticity. Forster is an interesting filmmaker who has dabbled in a variety of genres. MONSTER'S BALL, a dark southern family drama, still stands as his best film to date. He followed that with the whimsical family film FINDING NEVERLAND and then moved into head-trip thriller territory with the stylish but muddled STAY (another film from writer Benioff). STRANGER THAN FICTION, last year's devilish comedy with Will Ferrell, was an impressive piece of cinematic sleight-of-hand. And now with THE KITE RUNNER, Forster has established himself as one of the better gun-for-hire directors working in the studio system. Next up is the latest James Bond saga (currently untitled). I'm looking forward to seeing how this cerebral yet confidently styled filmmaker handles the action film genre.