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Extra! Extra! Marc Forster turns what’s at first a good story into sentimental tripe! Extra!

Actually, it shouldn’t be news to anyone familiar with Forster’s work (Monster’s Ball, Finding Neverland) that he has a real hankering for sentimentality. In Ball, a white racist becomes a good person when a hot black chick turns him on. (Yeah, really convincing.) Even though I liked Neverland, I can admit it’s really syrupy, but believably so.

The failure of The Kite Runner, however, falls somewhere between Ball and Neverland. It’s not really bad, but it’s not particularly good either. It’s one of those ‘tweenies, movies in that spot between a rock in a hard place that not only don’t deserve a recommendation but also shouldn’t necessarily garner reviews tearing it to shreds.

When the movie opens, it’s very promising. We see the story of two friends in the Middle East. Amir is well-off, and Hassan and his father work for Amir’s dad. Amir, an introverted kid who loves to write, is intelligent and never defends himself against bullies. Hassan looks up to Amir (he loves Amir to read his stories to Hassan), and he usually comes to Amir’s defense.

One day, Hassan is cornered by the bullies in an alley. They say that they won’t bother him if he gives them the kite tat he has. He won’t, because it’s Amir’s kite, and his loyalty to Amir is incalculable. The oldest of the bullies attacks Hassan and leaves him there in the alley. Amir saw the whole thing, and didn’t step in. Sure, he was scared, but from this point on, he’s filled with guilt for not doing anything.

Should he have done anything? Maybe he should have, if only to reciprocate the love and loyalty that Hassan shows for him throughout the movie. There’s a touching scene not long after the rape: Amir throws a fruit at Hassan, ruining Hassan’s clothes. Amir throws more at him, yelling, “Hit me! Hit me back!” Hassan, hurt, picks up a fruit and smashes it on his head. He’ll do anything for Amir, and maybe he also did so just to show that he would do it just so Amir wouldn’t have to.

The first hour is good, and the more I’m writing about it, the more I like it. The second half, however, doesn’t even begin to do the first part justice, and the love I had for the movie crumbles.

The movie basically starts all over again, as we see a much older Amir in America with his father after the Russians invade their country. (They had enough money to leave the country, but Hassan and his father did not.) He meets a woman that he has a crush on in the town market, and they get married.

What? Yes, of course Amir would have a new life in America, but what does this really have to do with the rest of the story? Maybe it’s just a set-up for what is to come (he’s called back to his country by a friend of the family), but set-ups are for the beginning of the movie, not half-way through. It’s as if we have to completely re-invest ourselves into another film, and it’s very jarring.

I’d hate to tell you anymore of the plot and wind up spoiling the movie for you (there’s a twist!) but I can tell you one thing that irked me. Amir gets in a fight with someone while in the Middle East, and his opponent is obviously supposed to be a surrogate bully from when Amir was a child: Amir finally fights back.

That perfectly sums up what’s wrong with Forster’s misfires. Stranger than Fiction was light, airy, and completely wonderful. I never would have guessed that Forster was the director up until the contrived ending that came out of left field. An integral character development takes place that doesn’t seem a bit genuine, and we’re gravely let down.

Not even the last few minutes of The Kite Runner could win me over. I can see how people who were still absorbed by the story could find it heartwarming, but I found it false after the poor second-half of the movie turned me into a cynic.

I can’t recommend the movie, but it’s not one I’m warning people to not see. I didn’t care for it, but if you’ve read this review and have gotten a sense you’ll like the movie (and you don’t have anything against Forster’s sentimentality), then you very well will probably love the movie.


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