Khaled Hosseini’s bestselling novel about two boys growing up in Afghanistan in the 1970s hit readers so hard that a film version just had to rile them up. I won’t deny that the film is sometimes rushed, oversimplified and skimpy on the details of Afghan culture that informed the book. But the tale still takes hold. In San Francisco in 2000, Amir (Khalid Abdalla), a successful author, returns to Kabul, now controlled by the Taliban. Back then, Amir (Zekeria Ebrahimi), 12, and his servant Hassan (Ahmad Khan Mahmoodzada) were devoted friends. When both kids enter a kite-flying contest, Amir, who wants to please his widowed father, Baba (Homayoun Ershadi), grows jealous of Baba’s encouragement of Hassan. What breaks the friends’ bond is Amir’s cowardice when he does nothing to stop the rape of Hassan by a Pushtan thug, who figures later in the movie.
Director Marc Forster (Monster’s Ball), working from a truncated script by David Benioff, doesn’t sensationalize the attack, but its brutality comes through strongly. Both boys give such heart-rending performances that fear of reprisals for participating in the scene persuaded the studio to postpone the film’s release to give them time to leave Kabul. Horrific acts escalate when the adult Amir witnesses executions at a soccer stadium while trying to rescue Hassan’s son from sexual slavery. Will these wrenching acts, coupled with dialogue spoken in Dari (with English subtitles), keep audiences away? My guess is that Kite is a film they’ll take to heart.