Monday, January 14, 2008

On the Big Screen

The Kite Runner, 2007

dir: Marc Forster

Last month we looked at the latest film adaptation of I Am Legend, and judged it a qualified success given the long shadow of the book. Yesterday I went to see The Kite Runner, Marc Forster’s treatment of Khalid Hosseini’s bestselling novel. Unlike I Am Legend, I had not read The Kite Runner, and was able to watch it with a mind uncontaminated by the source text.

The film has garnered mixed reviews, but the bad ones can only be from critics who are difficult to please: for me, it was the best film of the year. A haunting coming of age tale, a story of long-delayed redemption, a respectful picture of a middle-eastern culture, The Kite Runner is at once timeless and yet evocative of a particular time and place. A major Hollywood film with more than half the dialogue subtitled would deserve points for bravery even if it had nothing else to commend it, but The Kite Runner has many more points of excellence.

The plot is simple, which need not be a bad thing: two boys from different social backgrounds, Amir and Hassan, grow up as friends in pre-Soviet invasion Kabul; Amir’s cowardice leads to disaster for Hassan, and they grow apart; their lives take different paths and it is only a quarter of a century later that a reconciliation, albeit of an indirect sort, occurs. The relationship between the two boys is captured with marvellous subtlety: their estrangement occurs not because of Hassan’s resentment, for he feels none, but from Amir’s guilt at his behaviour: guilt which leads him to frame Hassan for the theft of a watch. Hassan admits to the crime he has not committed out of loyalty to his friend. It’s a heartbreaking scene.

The performances are uniformly excellent, particularly the two boys and Homayoun Ershadi, who gives a compelling, nuanced portrayal of Amir’s prickly, proud and ultimately noble father. The ending, which I won’t give away, brought sniffles to my cinema companion (who is normally quite hardboiled about these things), as the soaring kites underscore Amir’s redemption.

There are some obvious parallels with Atonement, another recent film of an acclaimed novel: both concern the effect of childhood actions on adult life, and both dramatise the redemptive power of story-telling. Atonement has garnered the critical plaudits, but for me The Kite Runner is a much more satisfying film. Where Atonement is, for this viewer at least, static and emotionally uninvolving (with the plot hinging on a flashy and obvious piece of misdirection), The Kite Runner trusts the characters and plot to generate its emotional power.

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Matt Curran wrote a typically interesting piece over on the MNW blog about the pros and cons of film adaptations from the writer’s perspective. One of the big plusses he mentioned was that, if the film is halfway decent, it will bring more readers to the book. The Kite Runner is a case in point: probably a book I would not have got round to reading, it’s now in the post on its way from And if I like it, he has another book out too. Now as for Atonement

I can never sit and watch trailers in the cinema these days without imagining how my stories would translate to the big screen. There’s a hell of fantasy epic to be pulled out of The Dog of the North (nudge to Macmillan’s rights department) even if it has a piece of plot misdirection of the sort I derided in Atonement.

In any event, I think my self-published novel Dragonchaser has the most cinematic potential. It has a relatively simple plot, a small number of main characters, and most of all it has galley races—and how marvellously they could be rendered on screen! A thought for another day…

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