The Reluctant Fundamentalist opens in impressive fashion with a rousing Middle Eastern music performance paired with a simultaneous kidnapping. Effectively setting the scene for the layered mystery to come, the juxtaposition recalls none other than the baptism sequence from The Godfather, a stunner if there ever was one. Such ambitions help distance Mira Nair’s film from the average political thriller and plunges the audience into the tangled world of Changez (Chong-ehz) Khan, a young Pakistani man with his sights on greatness. Played by Riz Ahmed with a boyish enthusiasm to succeed and find love in the United States, he has the misfortune of landing in New York in mid-2001 where, despite his successful business career, his ethnicity comes under scrutiny after a certain fateful September day.
Comprised of Changez telling his story to journalist Bobby Lincoln (Liev Schreiber) while Pakistani students protest CIA intrusion outside, The Reluctant Fundamentalist is a tale of gradual unrest recalled amidst one of more immediate turmoil. Such duality is present throughout the film, with ambiguity a constant issue and distrust clouding each new detail. Heightened by slightly shaky camerawork that gives the film an appropriate docudrama feel, the narrative occasionally teeters on heavy-handedness yet manages to reel itself in and deftly draw lines between American and Pakistani societies. Featuring solid supporting turns by Schreiber, Kiefer Sutherland, and what could be the finest Kate Hudson performance since Almost Famous, the film is both a measured display of intrigue and a thoughtful exploration of loyalty in a volatile situation. Informed entertainment this satisfactory is tough to come by and warrants attention from those who respect such concerted efforts.
Rated R for language, some violence and brief sexuality.
The Reluctant Fundamentalist is currently playing at the Carolina Cinemas on Hendersonville Rd.
Its’ “narrative occasionally teeters on heavy-handedness” because it is from the Pakistani point of view, that of a man just trying to live a full life surrounded by a culture that welcomed him with open arms one day, then patronized, profiled, and strip-searched him the next.
Were I an American trying to live and work in Pakistan and seeing the crowds in the streets cheering for Al-Quaida on September 12, my narrative would be pretty heavy-handed too, no matter how objective or empathetic I tried to be.
I give the movie an A+. Certainly a far better movie than the book, which I found truly ambiguous. It is ironic that the same author co-wrote the screenplay.
As for the heavy-handedness, I’m mainly referring to the art exhibit opening, though even that became more than a mere over-the-top statement.
Maybe the author knew it would work better as a film?
I think it was just because it was his first novel (he is now on his third).
As for the art show scene, it made the whole relationship element relevent.
In the book, the girlfriend did not seem relevant at all except for her pining for the dead boyfriend (and eventually disappearing, presumed a suicide by drowning) which had no relavence that I could see towards Changez’s disenfranchisement from his American life.
When I saw what Kate Hudson’s character did to him in the movie with her art show “statement”, I muttered “You bitch!” and could understand how Changez could now completely abandon any hope of remaining assimilated in America.
When Changez walks into the art show, my initial thought was that the work was her intentionally exploiting him to hurt him. Kind of a “laugh in your face” moment, which, on top of all his other woes, would have seemed a little too convenient. Fortunately, there’s much more to the scene and the way it plays out is consistent with the film’s overall complexity.
Overall, I’m just glad that someone else saw the movie and liked it. I have a feeling it will be gone after Thursday night and that’s a damn shame.