Translating a literary page-turner into a cinematic seat-warmer (or, in this case, a DVD couch-warmer) is a big ask. "It's not as good as the book" will be the inevitable mutter. But a film must stand in its own right, and The Kite Runner certainly does that.
Set against the backdrop of Afghanistan's turbulent recent history, The Kite Runner tells the story of a friendship between two boys, Amir and Hassan, forged in 1970s Kabul. Torn apart by an horrific trail of events and ultimately betrayal by Amir following the boys' victory in Kabul's annual kite flying contest, their lives are destined to follow two very different paths — Amir fleeing to America from the Russian invasion and Hassan remaining under the iron fist of Taliban rule. Driven by the need for redemption, Amir eventually returns to Afghanistan 20 years on to right the wrongs of that day, as he discovers "there is a way to be good again" — the film's tagline.
The central premise that there's always time to redeem yourself is universally resonant, and director Marc Foster (Finding Neverland, Monster's Ball) does a great job of conveying that message in a hard-hitting yet thought-provoking manner. Stories of past and present overlap seamlessly, and the location shots are just exquisite. But what really stands out is the performance of the central characters. Taken from a mix of established actors (the grown-up Amir is played by Khalid Abdalla of United 93 fame) and Afghan children with no screen experience, they conspire to suspend disbelief with consummate ease. Indeed, it's the delicate portrayal and touching poignancy of the friendship between the young Amir and Hassan — both acting for the first time — that makes the ensuing events even more harrowing for the viewer.
The only thing stopping The Kite Runner being an out-and-out five-star review is the unavoidable misgivings that spring from it being a US-made film. While there's no gratuitous violence in the later scenes involving the Taliban, the uneasy feeling you're being drawn in by American propaganda does occasionally sneak into your mind. Then, of course, there's the ending. Watch the film and you'll see what we mean. It's still not enough to stop The Kite Runner being one of the best films we've seen this year, though, and a definite Awards contender. In fact, we may even go on to read the book.