Movie Review - The Reluctant Fundamentalist
Riz Ahmed (Four Lions and Trishna) stars as Changez Khan, a foreign national from Pakistan studying business and finance at Princeton University who applies to work at a huge firm in Manhattan called Underwood Sampson in the spring or summer of 2001. He visits his family before starting work and his mother, father and sister accuse him of being too in love with America, though the real thing he loves might be ambition.
Kiefer Sutherland (24) co-stars as Jim Cross, an executive at Underwood Sampson who is very impressed with Changez and is the one who hires Changez to work at the firm. Jim is very stern and doesn't play around. He is also one that values earning money and lots of it. Jim might also be gay. It's not really in the text but Jim's impression of Changez might be one of sexual attraction. Ahmed does possess an exotic beauty.
Kate Hudson (Almost Famous and How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days) plays Erica, a photographer and the niece of Max Underwood, the owner of the firm where Changez works. A seemingly random encounter brings her together with Changez and the two have a romance, but when Changez tries to have sex with her, she stops. Prior to Changez, Erica had a boyfriend who died tragically. That loss still affects Erica so much she thinks sex with Changez would be cheating.
He is able to make her comfortable enough so they can be in a relationship. He's also able to impress Jim well enough so he can get a promotion at the firm. All seems to be going well until Changez witnesses the tragic events on September 11, 2001, and then starts to experience the after effects. Because Changez is from Pakistan and because he's Muslim, he becomes the target of discrimination, distrust and distaste from the Americans who surround him.
Changez begins to have an identity crisis. At one point, Changez admits he doesn't recognize his own voice. He had become so Americanized, but now the country with whom he fell in love was now rejecting him. Despite his attempts to assimilate, all any one sees him is as an alien, a terrorist in fact. William Wheeler's screenplay has as its essential question if Changez's alienation by the Americans and pressure from his Pakistani brethren are enough to push him into the path of becoming an enemy of the United States.
Liev Schrieber (Defiance and Salt) co-stars as Robert Lincoln or Bobby, the reporter from The Washington Post who interviews Changez about the kidnapping in Lahore and tries to discover if Changez has become a terrorist. Wheeler's essential question is debated within Bobby's mind, and Wheeler wants it to be a debate in the audience's mind. Except, it never really is a debate for the audience, and Bobby's debate is merely dramatic irony.
Directed by Mira Nair (Mississippi Masala and The Namesake), the movie moves briskly along at a snappy pace and never feels boring. Nair garners great performances, especially from Riz Ahmed who has the potential of being a true Hollywood star. That being said, Mira seems to make this film a thriller, but, there is no thrill because it is so obvious where Changez is at all times mentally.
A better mental struggle for a Muslim in a similar position is in Joseph Castelo's The War Within (2005). Nair's film wants to interpret or paint Changez in two lights: one of guilt and one of innocence. Yet, as the movie unfolds, one light becomes stupidly obvious. It leads to an ending where the emotional punch is actually no stronger than a light finger tap.
Three Stars out of Five,
Rated R for language, some violence and brief sexuality.
Running Time: 2 hrs. and 10 mins.