Monday, October 05, 2015

OVP: The Kite Runner (2007)

Film: The Kite Runner (2007)
Stars: Khalid Abdalla, Zekeria Ebrahimi, Ahmad Khan Mahmidzada, Homayou Ershadi, Atossa Leoni
Director: Marc Forster
Oscar History: 1 nomination (Best Original Score)
Snap Judgment Ranking: 1/5 stars

I remember reading The Kite Runner in college when it first came out.  It was actually required reading for all RA's who had freshmen in their dorms (it was the freshmen book), and while I was always a pretty enthusiastic student, I remember sitting at a table with my fellow students and some faculty and finding myself in an unexpected minority, realizing that I was one of the few people who found the book dry, unlikable, and occasionally offensive.  As a result of this, I had long avoided seeing the movie, but the Academy in their infinite wisdom decided to poke me a little bit and nominated the film for an Oscar, so my OVP completism required me to pop the disc into my DVD player.  Years later, I found myself once again having the same arguments with the source material, though here I was aided by a movie that at the very least wasn't critically-acclaimed (and also the conversation I was having was with the television and my bowl of popcorn, rather than all of my friends and my boss).  The Kite Runner is a failed attempt at creating something profound and meaningful, and instead a dry, misguided adaptation of a book that wasn't that good anyway.

(Spoilers Ahead) The film follows Amir (Abdalla as an adult, Ebrahimi as a child) throughout his life, and we are introduced to his hardships ranging from a rough relationship with his father as a child to the horrifying actions bespoken on his servant/friend Hassan to his efforts to save Hassan's son after Hassan is killed by the Taliban.  Amir's journey is the center of the story, even if let's be honest, we don't really care for him as a leading protagonist.

This is perhaps the greatest flaw in both Khalid Hosseini's novel and Forster's film-no one should like Amir.  He's sniveling, whiny, a spoiled, ungrateful brat who is basically a jerk.  He treats his friend Hassan like dirt and a servant even though he's clearly his only friend and is unwavering in his kindness.  When his friend is raped by a different, older boy, instead of coming to his rescue or at least trying to end his suffering, he just lets it happen so that his father will be proud of him for bringing back a kite.  It's a scene that is so disturbing not only for the obvious subject matter but because the director/main actor never really acknowledges that we're always going to hate Amir for what he did (they even return to the kite-retrieving in the final scene in a moment meant to be uplifting but really just reminding us that Amir is horrible).  The next 90 minutes of the film they try to show he's a "good person," someone who is willing to risk his life to save his nephew (to add an extra underline on the fact that Amir is scum, we find out that Hassan is his brother, which feels cloying and redundant since best friend or brother, Amir did something wrong and never apologized for it) from the Taliban, but let's be honest here-Hassan's rape isn't avenged by Amir trying to do the humane thing in this situation.  The villain in this film's eye is Assef, the man who rapes Hassan and kidnaps his son, but the reality is that there are two villains here, and the film doesn't get that, which feels insulting to the viewer.

As a result, we're left with a dull and tedious movie.  There's nothing wrong with a deeply flawed protagonist, but you need to at least acknowledge those flaws, and with the ending (where Amir's flaws are seen not that he's a liar, complicit in the crimes around him, and a disgrace, but simply for having a lack of spine) we get none of that.  In the end Amir gets basically everything he wanted as a child with only a bloody nose as the price-he gets a devoted wife, a son, and is a successful writer.  Hassan, the boy whose pain he perpetuated, ends up dead.  That's hardly a happy ending, particularly if you view Amir as one of the story's villains.  It's problematic, and kind of ruined Alberto Iglesias' score for me.  It's one of those Disney-style compositions that seems to become its own character, trying to fit the mood of the piece to the reality happening onscreen, but since my opinion of the main character was so off from the director's, I ended up feeling like Iglesias' score was off tempo to the mood of the film and occasionally felt inappropriate.

All-in-all, ten years or so after I read the book, I find that Khalid Hosseini's bestselling story doesn't improve with age.  The film, like the book, never apologizes or acknowledges its one-dimensional, spoiled brat of a main character, and lives in a world where only the most literal of villains get to be called that.  AMPAS may have had time for such a film, but I surely don't.

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