The Wind Beneath His Wings

"The Kite Runner" tale has snaked through the sky like a paper sunburst, electrifying fans of the best-selling book keyed up for its transformation into a movie.

Can lightning strike twice?

Seems it has, albeit the last bolt from the blue grounded the film for a bit.

Based on Khaled Hosseini's hotly received roar of a novel about boyhood friendship set amid the killing fields of the Taliban and modern-day terrorism in morally arid Afghanistan, this transgenerational movie that translates among anyone with a heartbeat had its own tragic circumstances to deal with. Its bubble popped long before any thoughts of popcorn dates trickled down to the local multiplex.

Its complex issues were further complicated by real concerns of reel truths; the movie moved its original opening date back to this Friday, Dec. 14, to accommodate reactions from realities graphically greeting its release.

A boy's rape scene described in the book was muted in the movie, but not enough so, it seems, to mollify Muslims, who mulled the image as the satanic-verse kind. Cause for concern for the life of one of the young actors — a nonprofessional whose participation in the scene had him targeted for death threats — caused "The Kite Runner" to take flight from its earlier release date.

Try and say "It's only a movie" to tribesmen tripping over the wire separating fact from fiction — and who take fictive literature literally true, accusing the actor of such unseemly sedition as to suck him dry of living a normal life, if he were allowed to live at all.

"Kite Runners" running for their lives? He and another youngster involved in the scene have been moved out of the country for safekeeping to Dubai, where their dubious distinction of phony film fornication may flagellate their reputations for years to come.

In the meantime, as the controversy boils back to a simmer, "The Kite Runner" has caught the wind of a zephyr, zealously applauded by critics who have seen the film and given it a name even more anathema to Muslim fundamentalists: Oscar.

Accusations, death threats … Oscar: Screenwriter David Benioff can live with the latter, and the letter of intent of the book and the film.

Blessed as blasphemous? Not bad for a writer who concedes he's bounced around a bit. Yes, he 'fesses up, he once was a club bouncer.

But he bounced back after the day was over with The 25th Hour, his first novel, which he would later adapt into a film — "my first screenplay," he says.

He weighed in with moviedom's "Troy" next and stayed up nights with "Stay," also helmed by "Kite Runner" director Marc Foster.

But a Jewish man from New York scripting a book mired in Muslim mystery set in the Mideast? Was he greeted by the Arab community with the equivalent jerk of a jeer, "Go fly a kite"?

"No," he says, surprised that, indeed, until now, no one associated with the film had brought up his religion. "But you see, there's also a German cast with Afghans, Americans and from Iran … all written for the screen by a New York Jew. See how global the world has gotten?"

But before he breaks into a verse of "We Are the World," Benioff bends a bit to accept facts and fears.

It's not like he didn't have self-doubts. "When I first adapted Kite Runner, it was a disaster," he admits.

"But I got lucky; the producers gave me good notes, I'm working with smart people. I tend to learn through screwing up and trying again."

Hopefully, that doesn't go for marriage, where he's wed to the amazing Amanda Peet. Their daughter was born this past February.

Pregnant pause: Imagine, 9 months old and the child's already got a pen name: Her handle? Frances Pen.

But then, Benioff has a pen name, too. Kids growing up in New York knew the future writer as David Friedman, no surprise either to his father, Stephen Friedman, once chairman of Goldman Sachs and current head of the President's Intelligence Advisory Board. (Benioff was David's mother's maiden name.)

Word on the street is that Benioff's bent on a winner. Could that street have been Wall Street at another time?

"I never considered working on Wall Street," he says, following in his father's fund steps.

"To their credit, my parents let me do what I wanted to do," adds the Dartmouth College grad with a degree in English.

No third-degree from them, even if "Dad is obviously a high achiever."

"But I grew up in an atmosphere where reading was paramount," says the writer, whose "Kite" ironically comes from Paramount Vantage.

A good read on Benioff depicts a good guy grounded — "Well, I was a shortstop as a kid" — with family as friends rather than feuding partners. Not that all families are the same, he soon discovered.

Take the one of the boy signed to play the rape scene in "Kite Runner." "Three days before shooting, he wanted to back out of it. The father claimed he had no idea this was involved and did not want his child to take part."

Part of Benioff says, "the father had his own agenda."

Reports have it that the youngsters secreted away to Dubai will have their lives, as well as those of their parents, taken care of by the production company until the children reach adulthood.

The tail wagging the kite? "People who see this young actor will see him playing a heroic little boy; people will be incredibly proud of him."

Go tell that to the Taliban and their cabals in Kabal.

Meanwhile, Benioff has been getting benisons, not broadsides, for work well done. Next project: another side of him to show in Gemini Man.

For a writer who concedes "I have never flown a kite," the wind is beneath his wings. The erstwhile club bouncer will never bounce a check in the future, that's for sure: With it all — his paychecks have gone from earning under 100 grand for 25th Hour to a projected $2 mil for Gemini Man — there's no money that pays off better than a movie that delivers emotionally to an audience.

"This," says Benioff of the soaring, satisfying "wind-win" effort finally released this week, "is truly a story about healing."



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