It's probably safe to say you've never seen kite-flying scenes like the ones that form the emotional and metaphorical core of The Kite Runner. The film, based on the best-selling book by Khaled Hosseini, is partly set in Afghanistan in the 1970s, and the simple act of flying a kite comes to represent a freedom of spirit that is lost when the nation is invaded by the Soviets in 1979, and then remains lost when the nation is dominated by the extremist form of Islam that characterized the Taliban.
But the two boys at the heart of this story do not merely fly kites, they "cut" them—by chasing other kites through the air and curling around their strings until they snap. Kite-flying thus becomes a form of competition—and with the help of modern special effects, the film sometimes uses aerial shots to show how the airborne kites pursue one another, like fighter planes hot on each other's tails.
These sequences are impressive, but their very impressiveness threatens to take you out of the movie. The aerial shots might be necessary, in some sense, since those who have never played these sorts of games would probably not know what to look for if the kites were shown from the distant, earthbound perspective of the boys themselves; but even so, given how naturalistic the rest of the film tends to be, the artificiality of the kite sequences does, unfortunately, call attention to itself.
And so it goes for the film as a whole. You can respect the efforts by screenwriter David Benioff (25th Hour) and director Marc Forster (Stranger Than Fiction) to honor Hosseini's novel and tell a moving story about real people who just happen to be Muslims or Middle Easterners. And when you consider that the last time Benioff and Forster collaborated ...