Marc Forsters timely adapatation of Khaled Hosseinis best-seller about the doomed friendship of two Afghan boys is not only faithful to the book but enhances the narrative with resonant visuals.
The sprawling, generation-spanning epic begins in 1978 in Kabul, Afghanistan, where timid, 12 year-old Amir (Zekiria Ebrahimi), who lives with his aristocratic widower father (Homayoun Ershadi), loves playing with his best friend, Hassan (Ahmad Khan Mahmoodzada), the spunky son of their servant. Since Amir is literate, he often reads aloud to Hassan under a pomegranate tree, but most of all they excel at kite-flying competition. But one fateful day, Amir cowardly betrays Hassan, who is then sexually brutalized by older bullies. After that, Amirs shame drives a wedge between them and their country is torn asunder by the Soviet invasion.
Years later, married and living in San Francisco, now-grown Amir (Khalid Abdalla) receives a phone call from an old family friend, informing him that Hassan is dead, leaving a young son orphaned. Guilt-ridden, Amir embarks on a dangerous journey to his ravaged homeland to find and rescue the boy (Ali Dinesh) and bring him to California. Traveling in disguise in treacherous Taliban territory, Amir must cover his shaven face with a false beard and witness a sharia, the public ritual stoning of an adulterous couple.
The non-professional children, discovered in local Kabul schools by casting director Kate Dowd, are extraordinary, and the Middle Eastern actors acquit themselves impressively. Using subtitles, screenwriter David Benioff has, by necessity, condensed the complexity while retaining the ethnic/culture-clash drama, and Roberto Schaefers lyrical cinematography deftly uses China doubling for Afghanistan. On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, The Kite Runner soars to an exceptional, enthralling 10 – with its universal themes of honor and redemption.