Who's in It:
Khalid Abdalla, Atossa Leoni, Zekeria Ebrahimi, Ahmad Khan Mahmidzada, Homayoun Ershadi
The Basics: Two young boys are best friends in late '70s Kabul, Afghanistan. One is rich and sensitive, the other one a lot tougher the kid stares down gangs of bullies with a slingshot; plus, he's the son of the rich kid's dad's servant. Together they experience a trauma that results in the rich one betraying the poor one. Then, already emotionally separated, the Soviet invasion separates them geographically. Twenty years later, one of them, having relocated to the United States, returns to try to make things right.
What's the Deal? Like Atonement, it's about kids doing horrible things and setting even more horrible consequences in motion. But here you never really feel much for the characters involved. Worse, it moves slowly, like a kind of remedial history lesson for people who never travel or pay much attention to the news. So while it's spending its running time gently pushing you along, it forgets that it's not much more than a standard-issue melodrama. Being about the Middle East makes it feel a lot more important than it is.
Way More Compelling Story: Because it really lets the Taliban have it, and because the story involves some pretty unsettling child abuse, the two young boys who star in it had to be relocated outside of Afghanistan. Their families were afraid for the kids' survival once it was released. It was even supposed to come out earlier this fall but was held back just so they could be gotten out of the country.
Why, Even Though It's Not That Great, It's Still Impossible to Hate: It doesn't throw tons of lunatic situations at you or dare you to mock it. It's not hatefully manipulative. It's heartfelt and straightforward. My boredom might not be yours; you may just find yourself moved by it.
Another Way It's Like Atonement: The kid characters in each who commit the acts of willful betrayal grow up to become writers. And neither of them grow much of a spine by their film's end. In fact, the guy in this movie is constantly being beaten up and never fights back, even as an adult. Message: All writers are wimps.