Review: The Reluctant Fundamentalist – An examination of Middle East angst
Many Americans don’t care how terrorists like the Boston Marathon bombers develop the mindset that leads them to commit their heinous acts – but they should. We’re told that, “they hate our freedom,” but their hatred of the United States really has nothing to do with our liberty. The Reluctant Fundamentalist is a slice of life from the perspective of a Muslim man who experiences the two different sides of the Middle East/American argument – and rejects them both.
The film begins with the kidnapping of an American professor in Pakistan and the questioning of one of his Pakistani colleagues who is an influential voice in the community. The young Pakistani man, Changez (Riz Ahmed, AKA hip-hop artist Riz MC), is being interviewed by a journalist/CIA spook, Bobby Lincoln (Liev Schreiber), and as the two men talk we see Changez story told in flashbacks.
Changez came to the United States when he was 18 and is living the American dream. He’s witty, smart, well-educated and driven to succeed as he lands a dream job as an analyst with a renowned New York financial firm, where he is mentored by his boss, Jim Cross (Kiefer Sutherland). He travels the world with his financial team determining ways to downsize businesses, which often means a reduction in workforce. He justifies this ugly aspect of his job by convincing himself that it is all for a greater good, including the well-being of his family.
Changez hooks-up with Erica (Kate Hudson), the niece of one of his firm’s partners, and develops a relationship with the woman even though she has mental hang-ups over her previous boyfriend, who she accidentally killed while driving drunk. He falls in love with the woman and even considers having children with her – although her love is not quite reciprocated.
Things are going great until the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the United States and Changez’s world quickly changes – in a bad way – forever. He’s strip-searched and humiliated at the airport, his car tires are slashed by rednecks and his co-workers talk disrespectfully about his homeland and religion. He begins to feel like an outcast in the adopted country that he loves.
After Erica holds an elaborate art show that exploits her relationship with Changez, he breaks off his relationship with her. While on a job assignment in Turkey, he’s asked to close the business of a Turkish publishing company that is promoting and safe-guarding books that are important to his culture. He becomes disillusioned with his American life, quits his job and his girl and returns to his home in Pakistan.
Back home he becomes a college professor and teaches his students about his experiences in America and tries to encourage them to make their own home a better place. But because of the American professor’s abduction, he finds himself under the microscope by the American forces within his own country and the Pakistani police who are under the U.S. thumb. The “journalist,” Lincoln, attempts to persuade Changez to assist the Americans before he is apprehended by them and tension leads to more violence within his city, but at this point it’s going to take a lot of convincing.
Depending on your politics, you’re probably going to really admire or really hate The Reluctant Fundamentalist; but I feel that if you are in the middle of the road you’ll find this movie an objective look at the way in which our country elicits both love and hatred from the rest of the world.
There are fine performances all around in this movie and it is directed by Indian filmmaker Mira Nair (Salaam Bombay), who also wrote its screenplay together with William Wheeler and The Reluctant Fundamentalist book’s author, Mohsin Hamid. Although its narrative juggles multiple timelines, for the most part this is a very well structured and thought-provoking film. That being said, its ending needed a little more thought or should have been cut altogether.
The Reluctant Fundamentalist is somewhat similar to The Great Gatsby (which also opens this same Friday – May 10, 2013) in that both movies address the evils of American excess and the arrogance of the rich; but this film is much more modern and speaks to several other more timely themes as well. Despite its weak finale, this one is highly recommended for the open-minded. Grade: 7.5/10
The Reluctant Fundamentalist is playing exclusively at Harkins Shea 14 in Scottsdale.
Photos © 2013 Mirabai Films