Director: Marc Forster; Release date: Out now
Amir is the son of a wealthy father in 1970s Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan. Hassan, the son of his father's servant, is his best friend. Together they take part in kite-flying competitions, and one glorious day Amir becomes champion of Kabul. The victory helps Amir in his difficult relationship with his father, but leads to horror for Hassan. Amir's first response is to fail to help his friend. Then, in guilt and confusion, he betrays him.
Amir and his father flee to the US. He marries and his first novel is published. Then he receives a phone call. Hassan is dead but had a son, now orphaned in Kabul under the Taliban. Amir returns to rescue the boy, redeeming himself from his misdeeds of 20 years ago.
The Kite Runner has been a bestselling book, a huge success for a first novel and promoted largely through word of mouth, particularly in book groups. The plot parallels the story of author Khaled Hosseini, who was born into a prosperous family in Afghanistan, came to the US 20 years ago and achieved success as first a doctor and now a novelist.
The Kite Runner is a mainstream Hollywood movie, beautifully made in every way by a director now working on the next James Bond film. The first half - the nostalgic depiction of boyhood - is pretty satisfying. Yet the film never attempts to address questions like, "Why has Afghanistan been at war for most of the last 30 years? If the Taliban were so uniquely evil, how could they take and hold power?" Instead it deals with supposedly universal questions about the need for tolerance, courage and integrity in building a successful family life in middle class America.
That lack of politics is a disgraceful omission when the US has been at war in Afghanistan for the last six years. It makes the country into little more than a colourful touristic backdrop of grandiose mountains, bustling markets and the odd camel. Nothing we see about Afghanistan is surprising or new. Everything confirms generally received ideas. The Taliban, for example, are clichéd monsters who are only seen checking that men have beards and stoning adulterous women to death in Kabul's sports stadium.
Hosseini has acted as a goodwill ambassador for the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, and after all this was his first novel - his second, A Thousand Splendid Suns, does much more to present individuals in their political context. This film demonstrates that there are times when good will, tolerance and courage are not enough. What's needed is information and a political understanding of Afghanistan - sadly, you won't find them here. Try reading Afghanistan: The Mirage of Peace by Chris Johnson and Jolyon Leslie.