DreamWorks // 2007 // 127 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Daniel MacDonald (Retired) // March 24th, 2009
There is a way to be good again.
Khaled Hosseni's beloved, best-selling novel is adapted to the screen by the highly acclaimed writer of 25th Hour, directed by the man behind Finding Neverland and Monster's Ball, and now in HD -- sounds good so far!
Young boys growing up in 1970s Afghanistan, Amir and Hassan are best of friends: the two spend much of their time flying kites in the neighborhood, competing in aerial duels with rival children, each trying to cut the others' kite free, and Amir reads the short stories that he writes to his illiterate companion. Hassan is unfailingly loyal to Amir despite a class inequality, and often sticks up for his quiet friend when harassed by bullies.
Their friendship is mortally wounded when Amir witnesses Hassan being brutalized in an alley and cannot work up the courage to intervene. Before their relationship can be mended and Amir can address his guilt, Russian forces invade Afghanistan, and Amir flees with his father to America.
Years later, Amir, now a successful author, receives a phone call from an old friend, telling him, "There is a way to be good again," and he sets off to find the peace that has eluded him for so long.
The term "epic" is often misused, automatically applied to melodramatic spectacles running more than two hours long. What makes an epic is not merely length or the amount of shouting a film contains, however; breadth and depth of story are more accurate delineators. That's why Gladiator is not an epic, but Kingdom of Heaven (the director's cut, anyway) is. By this definition, despite its reasonable running time, The Kite Runner is most definitely an epic. The story spans thirty years, dealing with issues of class and religion, loyalty and cowardice, depicting Afghanistan as free, under Russian control, and ultimately oppressed by the brutal Taliban regime. Children grow up, relationships evolve, and lessons are learned.
The Kite Runner is storytelling in its purest form, unadulterated, unadorned, and powerful. It is filled with moments that could be the climax of other films, yet treats them matter-of-factly: every scene, every moment is a piece of a larger whole as its scope is steadily revealed. Up until the last moment in the film, when it tries a little too hard to be uplifting, commitment to the reality of the characters is paramount. There are a number of feel-good moments peppered throughout, but they are admirably earned and completely driven by the characters' choices. I haven't read the book on which The Kite Runner is based, but Benioff's screenplay is moving, engrossing, and a great achievement. There are some very tough scenes in the film, with children raped and abused both onscreen and off, a public stoning, and violence threatened and carried out, yet the whole affair is remarkably tasteful. Nothing is exploitive or sensationalized, and those painful acts that we see are essential for the story. However, I suggest -- despite the PG-13 rating -- that parents will probably want to preview this before screening it for the whole family.
There are a number of fine performances to be enjoyed in The Kite Runner, some by actors whom you might recognize, others whose faces are new. The children, Zekeria Ebrahimi and Ahmad Khan Mahmoodzada, playing the young versions of Amir and Hassan respectively, are completely believable and devoid of any hint of precociousness. Their relationship is among the most complex in the film, with issues of class muddying the already opaque waters of adolescent friendship, yet both manage to internalize much of their struggle. As the grownup Amir, Khalid Abdalla (United 93) carries the burden of his youthful actions behind his eyes with a sense of regret that informs his ultimate quest for redemption. Perhaps most memorable is Homayoun Ershadi as Amir's father, Baba. Baba is eminently kind, brave, and wise, an intellectual who believes all of the Ten Commandments can be boiled down into one: don't steal. Baba is the movie's heart and soul.
The image quality on this Blu-ray is among the most film-like I have ever seen. Fine grain is visible throughout, especially in the blue sky, and colors are true-to-life, at times vibrant and others subdued. The level of detail is amazing: in wide shots of the city, individual people are clearly defined with no edginess, while shadow areas exhibit no signs of black crush. I noticed no instances of compression artifacts or mosquito noise. While often visually simple, The Kite Runner is a pleasure to watch, a treat for your home theater. The audio is no slouch, either. A scene where Amir and Hassan compete in a huge kite flying competition is demo quality, with kites flapping aggressively through the sound field and the multi-layered score by Alberto Iglesias (The Constant Gardener) reproduced with a pleasing, natural timbre. Dialogue is well balanced with ambiance, and all channels are appropriately active.
Two featurettes, in standard definition and totaling about 40 minutes in length, provide some interesting background on the development book, the adaptation, and physical production, but there's a bit too much time spent on mutual admiration for my tastes. Better is the audio commentary, which takes the considerate step of locking Forster's voice to the center channel, with Khaled Hosseni on the right and David Benioff on the left. I wish more commentary tracks would be similarly mixed for ease of identifying whom is speaking.
A beautiful story realized exceptionally well, The Kite Runner is a wonderful film to experience. The top-notch technical specs make this Blu-ray the version to have and an easy recommendation.
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Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* TrueHD 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
Running Time: 127 Minutes
Release Year: 2007
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Theatrical Trailer