MRR Review: "The Reluctant Fundamentalist"


MRR Review: "The Reluctant Fundamentalist"

-- Rating: R
Length: 130 minutes
Release Date: March 17, 2013
Directed by: Mira Nair
Genre: Thriller

Several films have examined the September 11th, 2001 terrorist attacks against the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, either directly (in films such as "World Trade Center" and "Flight 93") or indirectly (in films such as "Reign Over Me"). "The Reluctant Fundamentalist" also deals with the attacks, but does so from a relatively unique point of view. Instead of telling the story of the heroes of that day or the damage done to those who lost loved ones, this film shows the fallout of the attacks from the point of view of a Pakistani man who must watch the American dream crumble before his eyes.

The film centers around Changez Khan (Riz Ahmed), a Princeton graduate who lands a job as a financial analyst on Wall Street soon after leaving school. By the time the film's opening ends he has left Wall Street behind him, having moved back to Pakistan and taken a teaching position at a university in Lahore. He agrees to an interview with an American journalist named Bobby Lincoln (played by Liev Schreiber) after an American professor is kidnapped in the city. It is during the interview we see what transformed Changez from a determined analyst in America into an almost anti-American professor in Pakistan who some suspect to have terrorist connections.

Much of the film's story is told through flashbacks, starting with Changez' graduation from Princeton and recruitment by Jim Cross (Kiefer Sutherland) to a firm that specializes in corporate takeovers and downsizing. When the September 11th attacks occur and the initial shock has passed, Changez begins noticing that not only his life but the entire country seems to be changing. The attitudes of his coworkers and even people on the street change, he finds himself the subject of police and airport security harassment, and even his artist girlfriend Erica (played by Kate Hudson) betrays him by using his ethnicity to create a confessional, multimedia art installation.

As if harassment and even being spit upon weren't enough, Changez' final disillusionment with the American dream comes when his company is hired to take over and shut down a well-known Turkish publishing house. The publisher had once published books of poetry by Changez' father, and seeing his company dismantle it and sell off the useful portions of the company makes Changez realize that his life is not what he had hoped it would be.

The core story, based on the novel of the same name by Mohsin Hamid, presents a very unique viewpoint of post-9/11 America and how much of an effect it had on someone who had done nothing wrong but unfortunately shared a religion and ethnicity with the attackers. Unfortunately, the actual execution of the film took away from the depth and power of the story at times by overdoing the melodrama and flattening the characters into two-dimensional versions of themselves.
Part of the problem is that there is a lot going on in the film, and too many plot points seem to compete with each other for attention. By the time Changez' company is taking over the Turkish publishing house it isn't clear whether that's simply the last straw after the horrors he had endured, or if he would have left that world behind at that point even if the September 11th attacks had never happened. The final act tries to wrap up the kidnapping plot that started the film but mostly just seems tacked on. Add to that a script that has as many ham-fisted moments as it does truly powerful scenes and some poorly-paced action sequences and you end up with a film that simply fails to live up to what it had the potential to be.

The performances in the film are unfortunately as much of a mixed bag as the script. Ahmed delivers a solid performance despite some fairly dreary lines, but his work is somewhat overshadowed by the fairly lackluster performances of Schreiber and Hudson. During the interview sequences it's hard to picture Schreiber's character being any sort of journalist at all because he seems to lack a passion or even curiosity about the story at hand. Hudson's character just seems out of place in almost every scene she's in.

"The Reluctant Fundamentalist" has a good story at its core, but too often that story gets lost in the film's failed attempts at building tension and showing the horrors of anti-Muslim hysteria. While it is not a bad film by any means, there are too many wasted opportunities and too much forced melodrama to put the film squarely into must see territory.

Rating: 3 out of 5