London Film Festival 2012: The Reluctant Fundamentalist - Review
Review by Rob Carnevale
MIRA Nair’s big screen adaptation of Moshin Hamid’s provocative best-seller The Reluctant Fundamentalist is a thought-provoking but flawed cinematic experience.
It’s an adventurous film in many ways for daring to put such hot button issues front and centre and paint them in shades of grey, rather than black and white, but it belatedly lacks the courage of its convictions and often feels flabby in its story-telling.
The story focuses on a young Pakistani named Changez (Riz Ahmed) and picks up in the aftermath of the kidnapping of an expatriate American academic as he agrees to meet US reporter Bobby (Liev Schreiber) under the watchful gaze of the CIA, which suspects him of orchestrating the seizure.
Changez has an agenda, however, which is to challenge the pre-conceived notions about him and recount his story, which begins as a Pakistani teenager chasing the American dream all the way to New York, where he is recruited by a ruthless Wall Street corporation and encouraged to develop a ruthless side to business.
It is here that Changez impresses his profit-hungry mentors (including Kiefer Sutherland’s Jim Cross) and puts smaller companies out of business, to the belated disgust of his own father back home.
But once 9/11 happens, Changez discovers what it means to be a terror suspect in the country of his choosing, an indignity that begins with a strip search at the airport and continues throughout the next few years.
A crisis of identity follows and Changez is compelled to re-examine his life, heading back to Pakistan where he is quickly identified as a ‘dangerous’ professor who preaches anti-American rhetoric to eager students. But can appearances be deceptive?
Nair’s film is only partially successful at examining the issues at play (and the conflict between Western and Islamic ideology as well as big business versus the everyman) without feeling too contrived or telegraphed.
It’s at its most gripping when focusing on the interplay between Changez and Bobby, when the considerable acting talents of Ahmed and Schreiber are allowed to come to the fore and help to create a genuine tension.
But the flashbacks to Changez’s life in the build up to their meeting sometimes feel contrived, not least during the romantic scenes between him and a photographer named Erica (Kate Hudson) that struggle to convince.
The question of just how much we should sympathise with Changez also comes into play, no matter how reluctant his fundamentalist is. He is, after all, a character who represents high finance, who only really has a crisis of identity once his ability to continue chasing his dream has been compromised by the events surrounding 9/11.
The film’s conclusion, too, underwhelms instead of delivering something that really packs a punch – something that comes in contrast to its most provocative moment, when Changez candidly admits to a moment of admiration for the audacity of the 9/11 attacks.
At a little over two hours, Nair’s film eventually promises more than it delivers but deserves some credit for bringing a fair amount of intelligence and moral ambiguity to a complicated and still highly resonant issue.
Running time: 128mins
UK Release Date: tbc
London Film Festival Dates: Thursday, October 18 (Empire); Sunday, October 21 (Rich Miz)