The Kite Runner is based on a novel that has perched on the New York Times best-seller list for 124 weeks and counting. This is, surprisingly, bad news for director Marc Forster (Finding Neverland), who obviously doesn't want to screw it up for fans himself included. ''I tried to stay as authentic as possible to the culture of the people and capture the spirit of the story,'' he says. ''If you disappoint the audience [that] embraced the book, you won't get anybody else.''
The drama starts off in 1970s Afghanistan, where Amir, the son of a wealthy businessman, and Hassan, the son of their servant, are inseparable until the Soviet invasion prompts Amir and his father to flee to America, leaving his best friend and uncle figure (Shaun Toub) behind. Amir (Khalid Abdalla) spends his life ridden with guilt, then returns two decades later as the Taliban takes hold of the country. ''The lesson,'' says Toub (Crash), ''is that decisions will affect you for the rest of your life, and it's never too late to make up for your mistakes.'' Given that many Americans' knowledge of Afghanistan comes from coverage of Operation Enduring Freedom, Forster hopes The Kite Runner (shot in Kashgar, China, near the Afghanistan-Pakistan border) will be enlightening. ''Afghanistan in the '70s was a beautiful country.''