Mar 25, 2008

The Kite Runner (2007): D+

Any film worth its weight in celluloid can best be described as a representation of an idea, why and how that idea is expressed being left up to the particulars of the chosen story, genre, and every creative element apparent in the final product. This means of expression/sharing is culture in its most basic form, and among the primary reasons why I loathe (to say the least) the oft-repeated phrase "it's just a movie", a nugget typically employed with inconsistency among those who buy into its dismissive naivety, purporting silence amongst those who take the medium seriously (from Showgirls to Munich and back, oh my) only to be quickly forgotten when topical movies bubble to the surface of mainstream popularity. This lackadaisical approach to the effects of the medium is at the heart of why film like The Kite Runner are so dangerous, simplistic concoctions that pander to audiences (as opposed to truths), their guise of harmlessness masking naivety and ignorance. That last word is key, for Marc Forster's film—like Paul Haggis's Crash—is one of banal evil, unaware to its own offenses and infinitely worse off because of it.

One needn't read Khaled Hosseini's original novel of the same name to see how The Kite Runner homogenizes and flattens its material, doing to racial and social oppression in the Middle East what Michael Bay's Pearl Harbor did to American tragedy and vigilance at a turning point in history. That The Kite Runner strikes the occasional notes of genuine emotion speaks to the humanity inherent in its core premise, the trauma that undergoes two childhood friends of converging racial and economic backgrounds after one is subjected to a hate crime of inconceivable magnitude. Tears nearly flow as the educated Amir (Zekeria Ebrahimi) reads aloud the illiterate Hassan's (Ahmad Khan Mahmidzada) favorite story, but such is a fleeting moment of unembellished interaction that speaks volumes to the class differences that lie at the crux of the story. Enter hilariously CG-enhanced kite flying sequences reminiscent of the final aerial battle from The Matrix Revolutions and Alberto Iglesias's overbearingly "foreign" score (which plays like a Hallmark travel-abroad-from-your-living-room compilation), and this tale becomes one of cheap sentiment and skin-deep abstractions, reducing complex turmoil to what amounts to a few good guy/bad guy plot points, overly decorated clichés seemingly calculated for Western audience who need convincing to care about life outside their own borders (with no example worse than a PG-rated rape scene at kitschy as a Disneyland tea cup ride). The Kite Runner will no doubt warm the hearts of its intended audience (says Roger Ebert in predictable booster fashion, "How long has it been since you saw a movie that succeeds as pure story?" Uh, about a week?), but its nature is one of dubious flattery.


  1. But why does the mere fact that this film is unaware of its offenses make it worse than say Meet the Spartans?

    On the point that you made that it panders to audiences rather than truths, I am sure Khaled Hosseini knows more about what life in Afghanistan is like than me and you put together - he researched it for the book and has been taught it by his parents throughout his life.

    Having said all that this film is not perfect, in fact its so maddening sometimes that one almost has to turn away. But I can not ignore the performances, the originality in the direction, and the beauty of the cinematography.

    Great review. Keep them coming.

  2. It hadn't entered my mind to compare The Kite Runner, and though I would say that Meet the Spartans is a more self-aware film, its offenses aren't nearly as great in my mind, just silly humor and limp parody. As for Hosseini's book, I plan to read it soon, as it is supposed to be excellent. Unfortunately, though, I don't seen much in the way of great performance or (especially) direction here. It all just felt whitewashed to death, like something primmed for display in Times Square. Your words are appreciated greatly, though. At times, the comments are all that keep me going.

    1. First let me say how much l enjoyed your use of the language. It is something l admire and aspire to. As I am writing this on a cell phone you will have to cut me some slack.

      Here's my take on the film. There is a great story there, but it is still waiting to be told.. Whatever it was it didn't make it into the film. It definitely didn't sing. I don't know if I'll find that in the book or not, but there's a story there worth telling worth hearing, and worth seeing.

  3. Anonymous9:15 PM

    Perhaps that's why no one else has commented.

  4. How asinine of you. I'd actually be compelled to thank you for the inspiration given to me by a previous comment of yours (specifically, the realization that I need to tame my bitchiness and unintended-ego worship), but the problem with you anonymous chickenshits is that there's no way to tell you apart. In other words, you may as well all be the same. And now I quote James Caan from Thief: "Big. Ass-hole."

  5. I just watched the movie and am deeply moved.

    The movie is not about reproducing history nor the original book. It has to choose a viewpoint to retell the story. That I think it did superbly, mostly from the viewpoint of Amir.

    I don't think a dry, facts-loaded movie about Afghanistan can move me to the level "The Kite Runner" has managed to. That is what art can do through its subtlety. The kite-flying scenes were symbolic and highly contrasting. I think those were the points you missed.

    (I grew up in Taiwan in a era when the memory of white terror was still fresh. So please believe me I take no pleasure in smooth-taking terror and oppression in abstract forms).

  6. Facts, shmacks. My extensive problems with The Kite Runner have less to do with literal details than they do with whitewashed feelings and expressions, and the reduction of such to their LCD's for mass entertainment. I think Forster is one of our most mind-numbingly literal directors currently working (only Ron Howard comes to mind as being more offensive), his movies never more than a foot away from some poorly conceived fantasy land that doesn't seem the least bit rooted in a place I call Earth. Like what you want -- my gag reflex has had enough of his shrill life lessons and fakey profundities.

  7. Anonymous3:34 AM

    I greatly appreciate your insights on The Kite Runner. Your review articulates the general sense of malaise and frustration I felt while watching this movie. As for the book, it is "supposed to be phenomenal", but I must say like the movie, the language is largely dumbed down, and any attempt the author makes at similie, metaphor or irony, he makes sure to explain and point out to death, not trusting his audience to draw their own conclusions/make their own connections. Still it tells an important story, but just because a person has a good story, doesn't mean they know how to tell it well. Good work, I look forward to reading further postings of yours.

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