Before viewing (or reviewing) The Kite Runner, the big screen adaptation of Khaled Hosseini's best-selling novel, try a brief word-association test. Here's the key phrase:


What was the first thing that came to your mind? War? Opium? The Taliban? Terrorism? Perhaps, and there's no fault in that. However, if you're one of the many who've read Hosseini's book -- and kept it on The New York Times Best-Seller list for over two years -- you may have had a different set of associations: Families. Tragedies. People. And that is why Marc Forster's adaptation of The Kite Runner is worthy of at least a little praise, not only as a sensitively and beautifully made film but also as a deliberate attempt to reclaim Afghanistan -- and the Afghan people -- from an image that we in the West have crafted mostly from brief news reports of trouble or newspaper articles explaining a broken nation's shattered past.

Amir (Khalid Abdalla) is a writer; he lives with his father Baba (Homayoun Ershadi) in California, and they find some sense of belonging in the Bay Area's exile Afghan community, trying to move forward while respecting the past. Amir's written his first book -- his father wants him to take up something sensible -- and is married to Soraya (Aossa Leoni). And then there's a phone call. It's an old friend of the family, Rahim (Shaun Toub); he wants, he needs Amir to come back home. Amir left when he was a boy, during the Soviet invasion; his life is in America now. But Rahim explains why Amir has to come home, and finally convinces Amir with one simple phrase: "There is a way to be good again." Flashing back, we see Amir's boyhood in Afghanistan: His father is a hard-working member of the secular upper-class; his best friend is Hassan (Amad Khan Mahmoodzada), the son of the house servant -- and young Amir (Zerekia Ebrahimi), motherless but not unloved, wants to be the best kite-fighter in Kabul. Meanwhile, Baba's faced with Afghanistan's challenges: "The fanatics want to save our souls, and the communists tell us we don't have any. ..." It's a glib line muttered over a drink for Baba; it's about to get a lot less funny.