The Kite Runner

Out of the past

From Monster's Ball to Finding Neverland, director Marc Forster's films are full of people haunted by past traumas. It seems fitting that Forster has taken on another story of childhood and loss, The Kite Runner.

Forster's take on Khaled Hosseini's beloved book feels both consistent with the director's thematic interests but also like a further diminishment of his iconoclastic style. It's a solid, respectful adaptation absent of a unique auteur imprint or the stylistic integrity that has informed Forster's other works.

Set in 1978 in the Afghanistan capital of Kabul, The Kite Runner centers on the friendship between the 12-year-old aristocratic Amir (Zekeria Ebrahimi) and his preferred playmate, Hassan (Ahmad Khan Mahmoodzada), son of the house servant. Hassan's skill with the slingshot may be a necessary survival strategy for a persecuted member of the Hazara minority.

Even after Amir and his father, Baba (Homayoun Ershadi), have emigrated to America, Hassan remains a symbol for Amir of the horrors of Afghanistan and the persecution of the powerless by the powerful. As a child he watched Hassan being brutally raped by Pashtun bullies and did nothing. But eventually shame finally compels Amir to return to the Taliban-imposed horrors of Afghanistan to make amends for the past.

Though that fateful return gives The Kite Runner its sense of dread, some of the film's most potent impressions center on a grown-up Amir (Khalid Abdalla) and the ailing but dignified Baba living in the California town of Fremont.

An immigrant himself, Forster distinguishes himself in the film's middle passage as Amir and his father contend with their new lives as castaways in America. Baba's Old World manners compel him to buy a round of drinks at a grungy bar when Amir graduates from college. "Community college," Amir sheepishly reminds him as his father makes a fuss. Pressed up against each other in their meager apartment, the men are defined by loss – of fortune, family, country, identity. The sadness stacks up in The Kite Runner, which circles back to Baba's existential insight offered to his son to explain how his mother died in childbirth: "It's a dangerous thing, being born."