Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Two new films offer depictions of Afghanistan

My freelance review of two new films:
Afghanistan is front-and-center in two enlightening new films, The Kite Runner and Charlie Wilson's War.

Kite Runner, adapted from Khaled Hosseini's 2003 novel of the same name, spans several decades and focuses on the 1970s pre-Soviet-occupied Afghanistan and the 1990s Taliban-ruled Afghanistan.

Charlie Wilson, also adapted from a 2003 book (Charlie Wilson's War: The Extraordinary Story of the Largest Covert Operation in History, by George Crile) focuses on the 1980s efforts of a Texas congressman (played by Tom Hanks) to convince the CIA to increase covert military funding to help a savaged Afghanistan fight the Soviets.

Each film does a great job integrating rich characters into their stories.

Kite Runner is the fictional story of Amir, a well-to-do boy growing up in Kabul, the largest city in Afghanistan. His best friend is Hassan, his father's servant's son. Early on, the film focuses on their friendship -- including their kite flying activities -- and Amir's ultimate betrayal of Hassan for the sake of acceptance by his own father. Years later, after having fled Afghanistan during the Soviet invasion, Amir returns to Kabul and faces the atrocities of the Taliban reign in an effort to redeem himself.

An all-star cast powers Charlie Wilson. Along with Hanks as the playboy congressman with an extraordinary mind, Julia Roberts plays Wilson's anti-communist friend and romantic interest and Philip Seymour Hoffman is a CIA blue-collar operative who, with the Hanks and Roberts characters, travels the world to form unlikely political alliances.

The two films are quite different in style. Kite Runner is slower-moving and rich in its visuals and panoramic shots (courtesy of director of photography Roberto Scheafer). Charlie Wilson offers fast-paced dialog (courtesy of screenwriter Aaron Sorkin) and a fair amount of character humor.

One thing about Charlie Wilson, though: To fully grasp many of the nuances of its story, there's a bit too much assumed familiarity of all of the political players and events leading up to the end of the Cold War.

Directors Marc Forster (Kite Runner) and Mike Nichols (Charlie Wilson) deliver powerful films. Especially together, these two films do a good job depicting an ever-so-relevant slice of world history.

No comments: