The Kite Runner, adapted from Khaled Hosseini's novel, is another one of those movies made with such noble intentions it dares one not to feel like a Grinch for disliking it, but dislike it I did. This film means well by trying to expand Western cultural-consciousness, exploring a story about childhood friends who are close despite their class differences, and who grow up in Afghanistan before the Soviet-Afghan War.
An incident brings betrayal, and the future holds the chance for atonement. But the movie's robotic execution doesn't match its ambition to tell an adult story for an adult audience. Leading viewers by the hand, it hits every perfunctory beat in the screenwriters' handbook (amazing, considering it was adapted by David Benioff, who wrote the organically-flowing 25th Hour). You can read every scene's purpose as it's happening, and the characters all play fairly two-dimensional roles: the noble father, the mean bully, the encouraging family friend, and, not least, the ultimately betrayed friend who is nevertheless the model of selfless saintliness.
Although the movie features good child acting by Zekeria Ebrahimi and Ahmad Khan Mahmidzada, as well as a solid turn by Homayoun Ershadi as the father, these actors tend to highlight what's missing in Khalid Abdalla's central performance -- an ability to convey conflict and pain from a moral source, and not merely to appear spineless. The last act seems quite unbelievable, and one character's surprise re-appearance made my eyes roll out of my head; and if that wasn't enough, it was followed by a sequence more appropriate to a cheesy spy movie.
As a film about childhood in a pre-war Middle Eastern country and the guilt of having to leave home, The Kite Runner invites comparisons to its contemporary, Vincent Paronnaud and Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis, which trounces it. That movie, though animated, bleeds humanity; meanwhile, The Kite Runner ignores complexity in favor of shiny-package storytelling and manufactured moments of drama, thus doing a major disservice to the sad stories of the people it tries to shed light on.
(Released by Paramount Classics and rated "PG-13" for disturbing thematic material including the sexual assault on a child, violence and brief strong language.)
Review also posted at www.windowtothemovies.com.