By Lisa Schwarzbaum
Updated January 09, 2008 at 05:00 AM EST
Phil Bray

The Kite Runner

  • Movie

Few Americans will recognize any of the actors in The Kite Runner, and anyone unfamiliar with the Dari language must lean on subtitles. That’s not a bad thing. ”Foreignness” is the great leveler in this pretty good adaptation of Khaled Hosseini’s pretty good 2003 best-seller. Here’s a case where those who have read the book and those who haven’t are on the same playing field — the same kite-flying field.

As in Atonement, the themes are a writer’s education and a guilt-edged destiny shaped by a childhood act of betrayal. This time, the youthful offender is Amir (Zekiria Ebrahimi), a privileged Kabul kid. Back in the days before the oppressive Soviets invaded Afghanistan and the repressive Taliban followed, Amir abandoned his boyhood servant and pal, Hassan (Ahmad Khan Mahmoodzada), in Hassan’s moment of terrible brutalization; soon after, Amir and his father emigrated to America. So adult repentance involves a return to a homeland in ruin — and, at one point, a violent showdown with a mad mullah.

It’s a big saga — and not all of the book fits on the screen. (How could it?) But the challenge invigorates Marc Forster (Monster’s Ball, Finding Neverland), a filmmaker who in the past has approached his material like he’s examining a specimen from another planet. (The streamlined script is by David Benioff.) In making a movie about the hot mess of Afghan history, a sense of reserve turns out to be a useful tool for peace. B

The Kite Runner

  • Movie
  • PG-13
  • 128 minutes
  • Marc Forster