Thursday, December 27, 2007


Marc Forster: international man of mystery

By Edward Copeland
Monster's Ball. Finding Neverland. Stranger Than Fiction. The Kite Runner. That's quite a wide range of movie types for one director, but they all belong to Marc Forster. He's not someone like Howard Hawks, whose imprint you feel on any genre he tackled. In fact, I couldn't point to anything that makes something stand out as a "Marc Forster film." The German-born director has never made an awful movie (that I know of, having not seen Stay or his first two films), but he's never made a truly great one either and I'm afraid to say that The Kite Runner may be his weakest effort.

Based on the novel by Khaled Hosseini, The Kite Runner tells the story of Amir, who spent his early years in Afghanistan until his father whisked him out of the country to safety in the U.S. following the Soviet invasion.

Before their departure, young Amir (Zekiria Ebrahimi) and his friend Hassan (the remarkable Ahmad Khan Mahmoodzada) take joy in flying kites and Hassan often acts as protector to Amir, who longs to be a storyteller and is an easy target for bullies. When the time comes for Amir to help Hassan (in the much-talked about rape scene), Amir flees.

As the film opens, the grown Amir (Khalid Abdalla) gets a call in the year 2000, telling him he can make things right. Having not read the novel, it's hard to say whether some of the credibility-straining coincidences play better in the book than the movie, but they come off as forced and convenient.

It's not giving much away to say that the mission Amir is called upon to undertake is to return to Taliban-controlled Afghanistan to rescue Hassan's son from the enslavement of the mullahs. It isn't really a spoiler either to say that he succeeds, but the film portrays the rescue as such an easy one that instead of being touched or held in suspense, you just stare in disbelief.

The two strongest things that The Kite Runner has going for it are the performances of Ahmad Khan Mahmoodzada as young Hassan and, most especially, Homayoun Ershadi as Amir's secularist, educated father who finds life in America isn't quite as successful as it was for him before the Soviets then the Taliban ruined his homeland.

The Kite Runner isn't a bad movie, it's just one that seems to skate across the surface of what could have been a truly compelling story.

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I haven't seen this one yet, and am in no rush. I must disagree with you about Forster--most of the movies he's made have been bad to horrible, except for Stranger Than Fiction which I rather enjoyed. There's a special place in Hell for him for Monster's Ball, which was on my ten worst list. If you think Josh R. was mean to Edith Piaf lady, my takedown of Halle Berry makes that look like a love letter. And everyone knows how much I love and drool over Halle, so it hurt to say her Oscar should have been converted into another Razzie. I wasn't very nice to Forster either, but I'm not in love with him, so I felt no guilt there. He's almost as bad in the no-characteristics directing job department as Peter Hyams.
Of Forster's films, I liked Finding Neverland the best. If I gave stars, I'd put Monster's Ball and Stranger Than Fiction in the three star range and I might go as high as 3 1/2 for Neverland. Kite Runner lands somewhere between 2 and 2 1/2.
Stranger Than Fiction got three stars from me, which was a shock considering I normally can't stand Will Ferrell movies. Finding Neverland got 2 stars (mostly for Freddie Highmore) and Monster's Ball got one. I think Forster makes delusional movies and I wish he were called out more for that disservice. Finding Neverland was "Casper the Friendly Pedophile and the Coughing of Doom" and Monster's Ball was "Black Pussy: It Cures Racism!" Yeah, I really dislike this guy.
I'll take my life in my hands by saying I thought Monster's Ball was a pretty decent film, overall - and while I don't think Berry should have won the Oscar, there have been worse choices in the past ten years (Paltrow, Hunt, Kidman, know how these blondes piss me off). Finding Neverland did absolutely nothing for me - it was generic-seeming period piece with too much emotional button-pushing - and I thought Stranger Than Fiction was fun. I'm not going to see Kite Runner anytime soon, because it's expensive to see things in theaters, and the poor have to be choosy.
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