The Reluctant Fundamentalist


Reviewed by: Anne-Katrin Titze

The Reluctant Fundamentalist
"Through heartfelt and very conventional storytelling Nair simplifies, pleads, and misses the chances to shift the very current problematics into a new light."

Faces of people form the shape of a map of the world. Pakistan 2011, Mira Nair's Reluctant Fundamentalist first takes us to Lahore, where an American University professor is being kidnapped.

Riz Ahmed plays the reluctant protagonist Changez Khan, who meets American journalist Bobby Lincoln (Liev Schreiber) in a tea house and, for his article on Pakistan's new militant academia, tells him about his life adventures of the past 10 years. The young man from Pakistan, top Princeton graduate, and son of a poet finds himself at the start of a promising Wall Street career in New York, living the American dream. Kiefer Sutherland plays his difficult-to-impress boss Jim, who likes Changez because he reminds him of himself. Why, we never find out.

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The year is now 2001 and everything is about to change on a sunny September day. The frame narrative can be stilted, comparable to the one in Ang Lee's Life Of Pi, where rarefied wisdoms come served with your tea and soulful actors try to cajole you, while the flashback already successfully did the job of convincing you of the true nature of tigers or strip searches respectively. "Guilty people hide - so do hunted people," Changez counters, when after 9/11 he is being frisked, patted-down, and arrested for no other reason than the way he looks. This is the message of the film, based on Mohsin Hamid’s novel, and it comes across effectively.

One of the best scenes of Nair's passionately transcultural movie happens at an art opening, a type of event that in many films functions as filler, or a (not so) clever device to have people meet each other. In The Reluctant Fundamentalist, Kate Hudson, who plays photographer Erica, mutates in unanticipated fashion and gives one of the best performances of her career. What is called "defamation" by one person is called "a declaration of love" by the other.

Through heartfelt and very conventional storytelling Nair simplifies, pleads, and misses the chances to shift the very current problematics into a new light. The how of telling, urgently has to catch up with the story being told.

A little girl in Lahore delivers an envelope to the Western press. Martin Donovan (as Ludlow Cooper) looks with concern at a monitor and comments on the ongoing hostage crisis. How could I tell, the moment a certain (fictional) character was introduced, that he would have to die? Wilhelm Tell capers, a Pakistani Bond girl (Meesha Shafi) for a sister, rooftop conversations to take in the breathtaking views, a publisher in Istanbul who represents everything that's noble and manages to reach the hero's sense of shame - these are all flavourful elements that could be placed in many multicultural thrillers.

Being asked "how do you feel about the United States of America?" in a prison cell, after mistakenly having been picked up by the police on the street in front of your office during your benign lunch break, is what Nair makes her audience imagine, which successfully polishes our empathy.

Reviewed on: 03 Apr 2013
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A successful stockbroker finds his glittering career shattered after the Twin Towers fall, and is drawn back to the conflict in his homeland of Pakistan.
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Director: Mira Nair

Writer: William Wheeler, Mohsin Hamid, Ami Boghani

Starring: Riz Ahmed, Kate Hudson, Kiefer Sutherland

Year: 2012

Runtime: 128 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US, India, Pakistan

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