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The Kite Runner

(2007) *** Pg-13
122 min. Paramount Vantage. Director: Marc Forster. Cast: Shaun Toub, Khalid Abdalla, Nasser Memarzia, Said Taghmaoui, Atossa Leoni.

The publishing phenomenon The Kite Runner captured the imagination of the reading public with its wrenching drama and cultural detail of life before and after the Taliban in Afghanistan. In its inevitable big-screen adaptation, Khaled Hosseini's novel still functions as a timely requiem for a beloved country and a story of one man's growth beyond his own survivor's guilt. Unfortunately, mediocre director Marc Forster (Finding Neverland) lacks the vision and skill to give the film a power equal to the novel.

The film begins in 2000 San Francisco, where novelist Amir Quadiri (Khalid Abdalla) quietly sizes up the first shipment of his first book. Interrupted by a phone call that reminds him of his former life in his native Afghanistan, Amir remembers himself as a child (Zekiria Ebrahimi), sharing his free time with Hassan (Ahmad Khan Mahmoodzada), the live-in son of the family servant. In 1978 Kabul, an unspoken class tension lives between the two: poor Hazara Hassan pledges complete loyalty to rich Pashtun Amir, but more out of love than duty. Amir sees in himself an elitist willingness to exploit Hassan's love.

A tragic incident during a kite race forever changes the boys' relationship and stamps Amir with an enduring guilt. Before long, the story pushes forward to 1988 Fremont, California (announced by a BART train), where community-college grad Amir looks ahead to two hopes: for a future in writing and for a marriage with a young woman (Atossa Leoni) whose father isn't sure Amir is good enough for his daughter. If Amir is conscious of the irony of being on the other side of a class distinction, the film chooses to understate the connection.

The screenplay by novelist-screenwriter David Benioff (25th Hour, Troy) trims and simplifies Hosseini's plot, but does honor to its spirit and psychological acuteness. It's the workmanlike Forster who evinces a lack of feel for the material, shooting the kite competitions like WWI dogfights and applying an overbearing score by Alberto Iglesias. Hosseini's story improbably climaxes in Dickensian coincidence and resolves in optimism, but Forster seems more at home with the sunny passages than the disturbing and challenging ones. As a result, the whole enterprise feels surprisingly ordinary and rote.

It doesn't help matters that Abdalla is all bland goodness as the adult Amir, a character who should be more angst-ridden at his own failings—especially when fate forces him to confront them anew. Hosseini and Benioff seem keenly aware of the twisted truth in Amir's ineptly taking on the role of an adult savior, and the character's emasculating infantilization as a shadow of Hassan emerges once more to be the true, shaming, damaged hero; Abdalla and Forster fail on screen effectively to tease out such implications.

Most audiences will be more interested in the boys' story, with its attention-grabbing shock and heartfelt emotion, and the young actors are up to the task. Here, Forster is working on a level he understands, as an envious Spielbergian trapper of young emotions and naïve simplicity of lifestyle. By the time The Kite Runner crosses the finish line, it's placed toward the back of the pack of awards-season hopefuls.

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Aspect ratios: 2.35:1

Number of discs: 1

Audio: Dolby TrueHD 5.1

Street date: 3/24/2009

Distributor: Paramount Home Video

In its Blu-ray debut, The Kite Runner shows off a nice hi-def transfer that accurately renders the film's original feel and color scheme in fine detail, matched by a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 soundtrack that recreates the theatrical audio experience.

The disc retains the bonus features previously issued on DVD, starting with a commentary with director Marc Forster, author Khaled Hosseini and screenwriter David Benioff that discusses the story's development from literary inception to cinematic final cut.

"Words from The Kite Runner" (14:25, SD) covers similar ground in featurette form, with plenty of behind-the-scenes footage and comments from Forster, Hosseini, producer William Horberg, and Benioff.

"Images from The Kite Runner" (24:39, SD) takes a more expansive behind-the-scenes look with Foster, Benioff, producers Rebecca Yeldham and Walter Parkes, Hosseini, editor Matt Chessé, Khalid Abdalla, Atossa Leoni, Homayoun Ershadi, and Shaun Toub.

"Public Service Announcement with Khaled Hosseini" (1:18, SD) speaks in favor of NGOs, and we get the film's "Theatrical Trailer" (1:59, HD).

Review gear:
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer

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