Tribeca Breakdown: "The Reluctant Fundamentalist"


More than a decade after the events of September 11, as we look to new acts of unspeakable violence committed against this country, I hope that we’ve taken some perspective from it. Then again, CNN’s recent unconfirmed report that the Boston bomber was a “brown skinned” individual suggests that maybe we haven’t.

Mira Nair is one of India’s most celebrated filmmakers, hitting on a wide range of topics from an Indian wedding (“Monsoon Wedding”), a period piece about the classes in London (“Vanity Fair”), an Indian man’s quest to fit-in in New York (“The Namesake”), and a bio-pic about Amelia Earhart. In “The Reluctant Fundamentalist”, she takes on a rougher subject, one most American’s would probably like to forget.

Her main character is Changez (Riz Ahmed), a Pakistani-born young man who has lived a life of near poverty, which only drives him further toward success. He is accepted into Princeton and from there into a Wall Street firm. Things are going swimmingly, he even makes Associate at the firm, but then September 11th happens and he begins to notice how hard it is to walk down the street without being profiled.

This film is based on a best seller by Mohsin Hamid, which also takes Changez back to his Pakistani home of Lahore, where he becomes a teacher of his people. It’s here that the movie begins, after an American professor trying to help out in Pakistan is kidnapped, Changez is considered to be a prime suspect by the CIA, and one of his operatives, Bob (Liev Schreiber). Changez then goes through his past with Bob in flashback.

Nair does solid work here, creating a time when paranoia was on the rise and brown was the color of suspicion. A scene in an airport security station is humiliating while a project of his artist girlfriend’s (Kate Hudson, doing her first bit of real acting in a while), seemingly innocuous to her, becomes a haunting reminder of how alone he is. Then there’s Bob, the guy who wants to believe Changez but always looks as if he could go either way on this.

So much of this works because of Ahmed does such a great job with Changez. He’s a preppy-looking guy with a genial demeanor and a hard-driven sense of pride which later turns into an alienated loneliness and later still, fed-up anger. Much like the movie “42”, we’re seeing another example of people tested by the racism of others and if anything, the movie has a strong message about jumping to these types of conclusions without first examining facts. It’s a strong message, and a very effective movie. (The film comes out April 26)