Like the vast majority of book-to-movie adaptations, "The Kite Runner" is not as good as the novel. However, that does not mean it's not worth a trip to the movie theater. Much like the 2003 novel by Khaled Hosseini, the film is a real tear-jerker.
Set in Kabul, Afghanistan, in 1975 "The Kite Runner" is the story of two young Afghani boys who come from different worlds. The son of one of the most prominent men in Kabul, 12-year-old Amir (Zekiria Ebrahimi), struggles to fill his father's large shadow. His bear of a father, simply called Baba (Homayoun Ershadi) does not understand why Amir - who prefers reading and writing his own stories to soccer and is easily bullied - is not more like him.
Amir soaks up all of his father's criticism and turns it into self-recrimination, which he sometimes takes out on his servant/best friend Hassan (Ahmad Khan Mahmoodzada) who is the son of the family's housekeeper, Ali. As a Hazara - an ethnic minority in Afghanistan historically subject to prejudice and persecution - Hassan is not allowed to read or write and greatly admires Amir who can.
Hassan's unwavering loyalty to Amir is a constant throughout the film, oftentimes heartbreakingly so. The boy's friendship is tested to the breaking point when Amir fails to intervene to stop the rape of Hassan by a group of neighborhood bullies. Full to the brim with self-loathing, Amir can't stand the sight of Hassan anymore, whom he sees as a daily reminder of his cowardice. So he devises a way to drive Hassan and his father from the safety of the household all the while keeping silent about the rape.
Fast forward to 2000, Hassan (now played by British actor Khalid Abdalla) is a successful novelist living in San Francisco. He and his father emigrated from Afghanistan soon after the Soviets invaded and were able to escape most of the horrors that came after.
But you can't escape the past as Hassan learns when he gets a call from an old friend who tells him that there's a way to be good again. Hassan's quest to find that redemption brings him back to Afghanistan where he is confronted with the horrors of life under Taliban rule.
Filmed in Dari-Persian, the plot of "The Kite Runner" is so absorbing that it is easy to forget you're watching a film with subtitles. Once again Director Mark Forster ("Finding Neverland") has demonstrated his ability to work in multiple genres. In "The Kite Runner" all of the child-actors he directed were native Dari speakers. The casting of the boys playing Amir and Hassan deserves particular praise.
While for the most part faithful to the book, the film diverges from the text at several points. What is lost in the transition is the subtlety of Amir's thoughts which the reader is privy to as he is the narrator of the book but not of the film. Several darker elements of the book and an important flashback scene are also left out likely as a result of the producers desire to receive a PG-13 rating and to keep the screen time down to two hours.
"The Kite Runner" is rated PG-13 for strong thematic material including the rape of a child, violence and brief strong language and has a running time of 2 hours and 2 minutes.