Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Film Review: The Reluctant Fundamentalist

by Ambrose W. Benkert

In such works as Salaam Bombay and The Namesake, director Mira Nair has shown herself to be a gifted filmmaker. She brings that sure touch to her latest work, The Reluctant Fundamentalist, based on a novel by Mohsin Hamid.

This is an uncommonly intelligent and honest film. Hamid could have compromised the film by making it more commercial, but she didn't. A substantial part of the film is in Urdu, the language of Pakistan. Showing a sympathetic Pakistani character in the aftermath of 9/11 may discomfort some viewers, while others may object to the rapacious capitalism practiced by the protagonist's investment bank.

The cast is uniformly excellent, particularly Riz Ahmed, a British actor of Pakistani descent, in the pivotal role of Changez. Director Mira Nair begins the film as a character study that slowly morphs into a thriller in such an organic way that it doesn't feel contrived.

The film depicts the rise of Changez (Riz Ahmed), the ambitious son of a prominent Pakistani poet who graduates from Princeton before 9/11 and lands a job in New York as a financial analyst with a prestigious investment bank. His acerbic boss (Kiefer Sutherland) takes him under his wing, recognizing Changez's savvy and diligence. 

The attack on the World Trade Center occurs while Changez is on assignment in the Phillippines. Subjected to indignities and viewed with suspicion for simply being a young Muslim man, Changez still loves America but feels that America does not love him back. 

We next assignment see on assignment in Istanbul. Confronted with the dilemma of having to recommend closing a bookstore that happens to sell his father's poetry, Changez quits his job and returns to his native Lahore. He takes a position as a professor of finance at a local university. But when his American supervisor goes missing, Changez must choose between his native country and the one that provided his education and professional training. The film climaxes in a tense confrontation between Changez and a CIA agent (Liev Schreiber).

The only false note in this film is the contrived plot device that breaks up Changez's relationship with his onscreen girlfriend, Erica (Kate Hudson).

You're unlikely to see a better evocation of the dichotomy between Muslim and Western culture than The Reluctant Fundamentalist. This protagonist has a foot in each world and he's placed in the awjward position of having to choose between them. 

Edited by Julie A. Ashcraft
(c) 2013 Julie A. Ashcraft
All rights reserved.