The unenthusiastic analysis – The Reluctant Fundamentalist review

By Simon Miraudo
May 29, 2013

Mira Nair branches out with The Reluctant Fundamentalist, adding the ‘conspiracy thriller’ genre to her varied oeuvre. Trouble is, it barely feels like a ‘Mira Nair’ film; lacking her distinct flavour and vibrancy. A flat, not entirely compelling adaptation of Mohsin Hamid’s book of the same name, it’s so devoid of character it could have been helmed by quite anyone; not a criticism you could level at her more famous and idiosyncratic features, such as Monsoon Wedding and Salaam Bombay. If her filmography is a colour wheel, this one takes the place of beige.

Riz Ahmed plays Changez, a young Pakistani man with a fondness for American culture. He admires capitalism, and unlike in the religious communities of Lahore, he sees in the United States an opportunity to separate himself from the pack and become a winner. After scoring a prestigious job on Wall Street and earning the respect of his tycoon boss (Kiefer Sutherland), he falls in love with boho photographer Erica (Kate Hudson). Seems the American Dream can indeed extend to Pakistani expats too.

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That is, until September 11, 2001. When the World Trade towers fall, so too does Changez’s standing in New York City. Targeted at airports for security checks, eyed on the streets by wary citizens, and questioned by the government over terrorist actions he claims to have no knowledge of, he returns to his home country to lecture at the local university. That’s where journalists Bobby (Liev Schreiber) finds him, eager to ask him why the U.S. government keeps harassing his family, and suspecting him of crimes against their country. But Bobby might not be all he seems. And neither might Changez.

Though I’ve not read the book, I understand it’s told entirely from the perspective of Changez to his mysterious interviewer, and that their motives and true identities remain something of a mystery right up until the final page. Nair and her screenwriters Ami Boghani, William Wheeler, and original author Hamid strip away that nuance here. It means there are at least a couple of surprising revelations throughout the flick, but ultimately, it leaves little trace of the original tale’s supposed ambiguity.

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The primary theme seems to be that the post 9/11 world can no longer be understood in terms of pure good and evil; that the signifiers we once understood so well are gone forever. That message has been undeniably blunted by this more explicit take, wherein we learn exactly where Changez and Bobby stand. That no one says, “We’re not so different, you and I,” throughout this cliché laden movie is a miracle. Nair attempts a more hopeful ending than the one in the book. However, replacing bleak cynicism with blind optimism only rings false here. A notable cast – and noble intentions – can’t elevate what is a very ordinary film.

2.5/5

Check out Simon Miraudo’s other reviews here.

The Reluctant Fundamentalist is now showing in Australian cinemas.

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