Though most of the film is set in Afghanistan, these parts were mostly shot in Kashgar, China, due to the dangers of filming in Afghanistan at the time. Much of the film's dialogue is in Dari Persian (with English subtitles) and English. The child actors are native speakers, but several adult actors had to learn Persian. Filming wrapped up on December 21, 2006, and the movie was expected to be released on November 2, 2007. However, after concern for the safety of the young actors in the film, its release date was pushed back six weeks to December 14, 2007. The Kite Runner was released on both DVD and HD DVD on March 25, 2008.
The plot of the movie follows that of the novel. It tells the story of Amir, a well-to-do boy from the Wazir Akbar Khan district of Kabul, who is tormented by the guilt of abandoning his friend Hassan, the son of his father's Hazara servant. The story is set against a backdrop of tumultuous events, from the fall of the monarchy in Afghanistan through the Soviet invasion, the mass exodus of refugees to Pakistan and the United States, and the Taliban regime.
Amir also writes a story himself. Amir’s father is not very interested, but his friend Rahim Khan reads it and encourages him.
One day Hassan and Amir come across Assef, a bully with rancor towards Hazaras, and his two friends. He prepares to fight Amir and Hassan, but Hassan threatens him with his slingshot. They back off but Assef warns them that he will take revenge.
Amir and Hassan like kite fighting. It is a popular sport in Kabul, in which the lines are coated with a mixture of finely crushed glass and glue, for cutting the line of a competitor. In the competition whoever catches a kite of which the line is cut can keep it. Therefore children run for them. Hassan is the "kite runner" for Amir. He seems to have a gift of knowing where they will land. Amir wins a tournament. Hassan fetches the kite Amir has cut, but runs into Assef and his two henchmen. Assef demands the kite, but Hassan refuses to give it up. Because of that Assef beats him up. The film briefly shows the undoing of Assef's pants buckle and Hassan's pants being tugged down, suggesting that a sexual assault follows. While looking for Hassan, Amir approaches this scene, and hiding, watches the assault. He neither defends Hassan, nor calls for help. Amir and Hassan never tell anyone what happened, and do not talk about it among themselves. When Amir comes home he is finally praised by Baba for winning the tournament, but Amir realizes that the opposite would have been the case if Baba had known what had happened.
Amir and Hassan both become emotionally downcast. Amir feels guilty of being a coward, realizing that Hassan was brave; if Baba knew what happened he might love Hassan more than him. Amir decides it would be best if Hassan would leave. He suggests to Baba to hire other servants but Baba angrily refuses. Amir frames Hassan as a thief, and Hassan falsely confesses. Baba forgives him, despite the fact that, as he explained earlier, he believes that "there is no act more wretched than stealing". Ali and Hassan decide to leave, in spite of Baba begging and ordering them to stay.
A short while later, the Soviets invade Afghanistan; since Baba is well-known as an anti-communist, Amir and Baba flee; Rahim Khan will watch over the house. On the way a female refugee is about to be raped by a Soviet soldier; Baba defends her, in spite of Amir's justified fear that Baba will be killed. The soldier's superior prevents harm to the woman and to Baba. The refugees hide in the tank of a fuel truck on the road to Peshawar, Pakistan. After waiting six months, Baba and Amir were granted visas from the Immigration and Naturalization Service and were allowed to relocate to the United States.
They start living in Fremont, California. After having lived in luxury in an expensive mansion in Afghanistan, they now settle in a humble apartment. Baba begins work at a gas station, and Amir goes to college. Every Sunday, Baba and Amir make extra money selling used goods at a flea market in San Jose. There, Amir meets Soraya Taheri and her family; Soraya is interested in Amir's writing skills, although her father, a former Afghan authority called General Taheri, is contemptuous of them. Baba gets very ill but is still capable of doing Amir a big favor: he asks the general permission for Amir to marry her. He agrees and the two marry. Shortly thereafter Baba dies. Amir and Soraya learn that they cannot have children. Amir's first novel is published; Amir has dedicated it to Rahim Khan, who (as opposed to Baba) encouraged him as beginning writer.
Amir receives a phone call from Rahim Khan (this is partly already shown at the start of the film, so the rest of what was shown until here was a long flashback), telling him to come to Pakistan, because "there is a way to be good again". (Perhaps he knows that in the past Amir framed Hassan as a thief, or he refers to not keeping in touch with Hassan.) Amir agrees and flies to Pakistan to meet him. Rahim Khan tells Amir that he had hired Hassan as caretaker of Baba's house, and that the Taliban ordered him to give it up and leave, but that he refused, and was killed. His wife desperately attacked them and was killed too. Hassan was actually Amir's half-brother, being an illegitimate son of Baba. Amir is angry for having been deceived all his life. Rahim Khan gives Amir a draft of a letter that Hassan was going to send to Amir: he is sad about what happened to the country and hopes Amir can visit him one day.
The reason that Rahim Khan has called Amir to Pakistan is to go to Kabul where Hassan's son, Sohrab, is believed to live in an orphanage, and to take him out of Afghanistan to give him better living conditions. First Amir is reluctant to go and offers money to have Sohrab brought out of the country by somebody else, but Rahim Khan thinks he should do it himself.
Amir agrees; he returns to Taliban-controlled Kabul with Farid as a guide and driver. Reluctantly Amir follows Farid's instruction to glue on a fake beard, as a beard is compulsory under Taliban rule. When Amir watches a passing Taliban patrol, Fahrid urges him never to stare at them.
Zaman, the director of the orphanage where Sohrab is supposed to be, tells them that a Taliban official comes once every two months to take a child (usually a girl, sometimes a boy) and bring some money very needed to feed the orphans. Sohrab was one of them. Amir reproaches him for allowing that, but the man says that if he refuses they take ten children, and besides, he needs the money for the remaining children. Reluctantly Amir goes with Farid to a football match (with bearded players) where in the break an adulterous woman is stoned to death, because there he can meet the man who took Sohrab. Amir sets an appointment with this man and meets him at his home. There he finds out that the Taliban official is Assef. Violating the ban on music and dancing, music is played, and Sohrab is introduced to Amir dancing to this music; apparently Assef made him his dance boy. Assef orders his guards to leave the room. Doing what he could not do as a child, Amir stands up to Assef and demands that the boy be released to him. Assef agrees, but as the price Amir has to pay for the boy, Assef attacks Amir brutally. However, Sohrab has the slingshot with him which he got from his father, who got it as a birthday present from Amir long ago. Amir is saved when Sohrab uses it and shoots a brass ball from the base of a turned-over table into one of Assef's eyes. Amir and Sohrab manage to escape the house, and leave with Farid, who waited in the car, while under fire from the guards. Without further complications (though paying a bribe at the border) they leave the country.
Amir returns with the boy to the house of Rahim Khan, but he has died. The traumatized boy runs away from the hotel, but to Amir's relief he returns. He says he feels dirty because of what Assef daily did to him.
Amir takes Sohrab, who is still traumatized and withdrawn, back to America. At dinner one night, General Taheri asks why Amir brought "that Hazara boy" back with him. Amir, again showing courage in the face of an overbearing figure, tells the General the truth and insists that he never call Sohrab "that Hazara boy" around him ever again. Later, Amir shows Sohrab the tricks of kite flying. Slowly Sohrab begins to interact with Amir, who enthusiastically runs the kite, saying to Sohrab the phrase Hassan said to Amir in the past: "For you, a thousand times over."
Additionally, Zekeria Ebrahimi (Amir as a child) has said "We want to study in the United States. It's a modern country and more safe than here in Kabul. If I became rich here I would be worried about security. It's dangerous to have money because of the kidnapping." After living four months in Dubai, where he and his aunt had been relocated by Paramount, they returned to Kabul in March 2008. After threats to his life, Zekeria lives indoors and is home-schooled by an uncle. He says he wishes he had never done the movie.
Zekeria Ebrahimi and Ahmad Mahmidzada were paid $17,500 each, and Ali Dinesh $13,700; some argue that they were underpaid.
Paramount relocated the three main boy actors playing Amir, Hassan, and Sohrab, and one with a minor role playing Omar, each accompanied by a relative, to the United Arab Emirates. Reportedly it accepts responsibility for the boys' living expenses until they reach adulthood, a cost some estimated at up to 500,000 dollars.
The three boys were aged 11 and 12 at the time of the filming.
Khaled Hosseini makes a cameo appearance at the end of the movie.