Adapted from the best-selling novel by Afghan-born American writer Khaled Hosseini, this accessible, deftly-directed and moving tale of childhood regret and adult atonement courses through three decades of war-torn Afghan history in personal terms. In 1978, preceding the Soviet invasion, privileged seven-year-old Kabul boy Amir (Zekeria Ebrahmi) witnesses the rape of his friend and fellow kite-flyer, lower-class Hazara servant Hassan (the expressive and contained Ahmad Khan Mahmidzada) by the malevolent Assef. Confused and angered by his own powerlessness, guilt, and shame, Amir frames his erstwhile companion for theft and is further admonished by the morally pure, loyal and self-abnegating behaviour of his victim, something that troubles the aspirant-writer Amir through his 20-odd years of exile in the US. In the present, a visit to Pakistan to see his dead father’s dying friend, offers news of Hassan’s fate, and prompts the older, now-married Amir (Khalid Abdalla) to a dangerous visit to his now Taliban-controlled home.
Notwithstanding the inevitable tendency of individual stories set against momentous national upheavals to conflate and simplify historical events, Marc ‘Finding Neverland’ Forster’s film achieves minor miracles within the bounds of his broadly conventional narrative. His sober approach allows a surprising level of complexity in his film’s wider interest in themes of guilt, displacement, honour and conflicting traditions, while his sensitivity to the emotional responses of his characters – both adult and child – is never overwhelmed nor upstaged by his incorporation of challenging dramatic scenes (such as a startlingly brutal stoning of an adulterous couple in a Kabul stadium). Likewise, the film’s belief in the power of redemption and its subtle assertion of the need for moral courage in personal (or political) conflict, is never allowed to get in the way of its boldly told, intelligent, informed and affecting story.