Screenwriter David Benioff ("The 25th Hour”) did not change much in Hosseini’s captivating story about a friendship of two Afghan boys before the 1979 Soviet invasion and about how the betrayal of one of them affected the other’s life.
“The Kite Runner” is light and fascinating when it is focused on kids, be that wealthy Amir (Zekiria Ebrahimi) or the family servant's feisty son Hassan (the irresistible Ahmad Khan Mahmoodzada). The boys are obsessed by kites and American movies like "The Magnificent Seven" and "Bullitt", and that’s so verisimilar, and the young actors play them surprisingly well taking into consideration these are their first screen roles, the AP reports.
But the film, shot mainly on location in Western China , also darkens plausibly with danger lurking around every corner. For the most part, Forster - whose eclectic filmography runs from "Monster's Ball" to "Stranger Than Fiction" - shows great restraint during moments that could have been heavily melodramatic.
The rape of little Hassan by a group of bullies in a Kabul marketplace alley, which Amir secretly witnesses and fearfully does nothing about, is a prime example. Working with his longtime cinematographer Roberto Schaefer, Forster handles this harrowing moment delicately, which makes it more significant for the viewer. Similarly, he depicts a death of a major character later on with quiet and grace.
Once the story follows Amir as an adult (Khalid Abdalla), living as an aspiring writer in San Francisco with his ailing father (the formidable Homayoun Ershadi), the tone turns draggier - which is understandable and necessary, given that Amir remains wracked with shame for his childhood transgression, but that also means it loses its earlier energy. (Forster and Benioff do inject some much-needed humor as Amir meets and awkwardly courts the woman who will become his wife, played by Atossa Leoni.)
And once Amir returns to the ravaged, Taliban-controlled Kabul he no longer recognizes for the chance to right his wrong, moments that should have been more poignant are instead distracting for their convenience. Old foes show up at just the right time, and sequences that played out at the beginning are echoed at the end. It's a jarring contrast for a film that's so clearly aiming for emotional and political realism.
If nothing else, though, "The Kite Runner" does succeed in providing a vibrant window into a region of the world we might not have known and might have felt daunted to seek out. In this era of 24-hour cable news, celebrity gossip and blink-and-you-miss-them headlines, that's probably the greatest service the film could provide.
"The Kite Runner," a Paramount Classics and DreamWorks Pictures release, runs 122 minutes. Two and a half stars out four.