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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Children in Afghanistan are at the center of "The Kite Runner." That best-selling book by Khaled Hosseini is now a movie, which opens today. We have a review this morning from Los Angeles Times and MORNING EDITION film critic Kenneth Turan.

KENNETH TURAN: "The Kite Runner" is a house divided against itself. The film version does one part of the story so well that its success underlines what's lacking in what remains. The film, like the novel, breaks into two parts. Initially it's the tale of childhood friendship and betrayal in peaceful, pre-war Afghanistan. Then, after an unexpected phone call, it becomes the story of how that relationship plays out when its characters become adults.

(Soundbite of movie, "The Kite Runner")

Unidentified Man #1 (Actor): (As character) You should come home.

Mr. KHALID ABDALLA (Actor): (As Amir) Home? I don't know if now is such a good time.

Unidentified Man #1: (As character) This is a very bad time, but you should come. There's a way to be good again, Amir.

TURAN: Marc Forster is best known for directing Halle Berry in the Oscar-winning "Monster's Ball." But what likely got him this job was his work on "Finding Neverland," where he showed he was a gifted collaborator with child actors. Forster's worked with the two young Afghan stars who play best friends Amir and Hassan is so good that it was a regret that we leave Kabul and join the flatter, less nuanced sphere of Afghans exiled in California.

(Soundbite of movie, "The Kite Runner")

Unidentified Man #2 (Actor): (As character) My son, the college graduate.

Mr. ABDALLA: (As Amir) It's just community college.

Unidentified Man #2: (As character) It's college. And someday it's Dr. Amir.

Mr. ABDALLA: (As Amir) You know I want to write.

Unidentified Man #2: (As character) Write?

Mr. ABDALLA: (As Amir) I don't want to be a doctor.

Unidentified Man #2: (As character) Cheers.

TURAN: "Kite Runner"'s version of Kabul, filmed in China, is a vivid place.

(Soundbite of movie, "The Kite Runner")

Unidentified Child(Actor): (As character) (Foreign language spoken)

TURAN: Especially when the boys compete in kite-fighting tournaments.

(Soundbite of music)

TURAN: Here kites with glass-coated strings fill the skies and attempt to cut each other's lines and be the last one flying. "Kite Runner," the movie, is faithful to the book, but it gets in trouble because things play differently onscreen than they do on the page. The grown-up Amir is sympathetic in the book because he's the narrator. But as an adult on screen, he's too glum for us to care. Amir's adult story lacks the life that animates the childhood sections. This "Kite Runner" may fly but it never soars.

INSKEEP: Kenneth Turan reviews movies for the L.A. Times and for MORNING EDITION. And though Ken Turan doesn't like it, "The Kite Runner" was nominated for a film award yesterday. It was among the nominees for a Golden Globe in the best foreign language category. At center stage for the Golden Globe nominations though was "Atonement," a drama about love and war was received seven nods, the most of any other film. Also up for best drama are the films "American Gangster" and "No Country for Old Men," made from a novel by Cormac McCarthy. The awards will be presented in January on NBC.

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