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'Kite Runner'
(Saïd Taghmaoui, Shaun Toub, et al / DVD / PG-13 / (2007) 2008 / Paramount)

Overview: Amir is a young Afghani from a well-to-do Kabul family; his best friend Hassan is the son of a family servant. Together the two boys form a bond of friendship that breaks tragically on one fateful day when Amir fails to save his friend from brutal neighborhood bullies. Amir and Hassan become separated and as first the Soviets and then the Taliban seize control of Afghanistan Amir and his father escape to the United States to pursue a new life. Years later Amir now an accomplished author living in San Francisco is called back to Kabul to right the wrongs he and his father committed years ago.

DVD Verdict: `The Kite Runner' is every bit as moving as `The Children of Heaven'. Synthesizing the developments of two boyhood friends with the modern history of Afghanistan, the movie integrates its subject matter supplely and with great finesse.

At the start we have Amir (Khalid Abdalla), a successful author and Afghan émigré living in San Francisco. His new book 'A Season for Ashes' has been published and several copies have been delivered to his place. In one short scene he is at a park where kites are flying near the Bay.

Soon we're transported to his past. It is 1978 in Kabul, Afghanistan, and his father (Homayoun Ershadi) is a wealthy man. Living with them is his housekeeper, Ali, and his son Hassad (Ahmad Khan Mahmidzada), who is Amir's (Zekeria Ebrahimi) best childhood friend. They both share a liking for the cinema where Steve McQueen and Charles Bronson have become their favorite celluloid heroes. As an example of the movie's gentle heart, Hassad is surprised to learn that Charles Bronson isn't really Afghani, a fact that throws him given the lines are overdubbed in their native language. They also love to read stories from a book together.

But their real passion is flying kites. A tournament is held every year in their neighborhood. And practice employs the strategy of maneuvering around an opponent's kite until the string is broken, and one's kite is the sole survivor in the frosty Afghan sky. With festive enthusiasm the movie captures all the energy of their favorite childhood ritual, especially from the arial shots.

Ominously, Kabul is a short time away from the Soviet invasion, one that builds up within the university and gets much conversation from the adults. As we grow closer to these life-shattering events, their friendship becomes amiss, too. Amir and Hassad are bullied on the street by older boys, and to ward them off, they each get a sling-shot to fend off the attacks. One day Hassan must endure hardship when he's caught off guard on the street after retrieving a kite. Amir, who witnesses the debacle, doesn't help out his friend, but later tests his endurance until he loses all respect for his friend's perseverance.

Hassad perhaps lives up to turning the other cheek better than most boys of any background, but Amir must grapple with his own guilt. Just before the Soviets invade Afghanistan, Amir does something unsettling to Hassad. Then Amir and father flee to America, and Amir is separated from his lifelong friend.

The rest of the movie shows how Amir tries to catch up with his past. Learning secrets along the way, he must sort through the rubble of his native country that has had indelible effects from both the Soviet upheaval and the Taliban's rigid regime. Noting that Kabul used to smell of "lamb kabob" and now reeks of "diesel fuel," Amir returns as an adult to find nothing is the same. Ending in 2000 in America, the film only has to imply recent history as it comes to within a year of 2001 and the overthrow of the Taliban.

`The Kite Runner' is an absorbing ride through a didactic history blended well with a solid, lovable personal story. Much like French movie 'Cache' and the more recent 'Atonement' the protagonist has to make amends for his past in the ruins of a childhood that has been fractured by personal and historical events. This is a Widescreen Presentation (1.85:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs and comes with the Special Features of:

“Words from the Kite Runner” Featurette
“Images from the Kite Runner” Featurette
Public Service Announcement
Theatrical Trailer