Movies
5:50 am
Thu May 23, 2013

The Reluctant Fundamentalist

The Reluctant Fundamentalist
Grade: B
Director: Mira Nair (Monsoon Wedding)
Screenplay: William Wheeler (The Hoax) ( from the Moshin Hamid novel
Cast: Riz Ahmed (Ill Manors), Kate Hudson (Almost Famous)
Rating: R
Runtime: 130 min.
by John DeSando

The aftermath of 9/11 is an ongoing process: For Americans, the hardening of the heart and the strengthening of its defenses is a given; for a Pakistani like Changez (Riz Ahmed) his love of America is challenged in his professional and personal life. The Reluctant Fundamentalist, adapted from the Moshin Hamid novel, is a cultural deconstruction of values, beliefs, and patriotism framed in a formulaic thriller.

The character arc for Changez extends relentlessly throughout the film. Changez’s “change” is the heart of the film, and director Mira Nair doesn’t disappoint as she exposes the fraying nerves underlying both commerce and politics in these volatile times.

Nair is weak only in having a thesis to prove, most notably that when family, profession, and nationalism collide in parlous times, few will emerge unscathed but all will fiercely protect their own values. For instance, while Changez, the son of a Pakistani poet, achieves the American Dream as a business analyst for a prominent financial advisory company, aka corporate morticians (see Romney’s Bain), that success wears on this young man with a fundamental belief in fairness. As a professor, he teaches "the importance of fundamentals.” The abduction of a fellow academic seriously challenges his allegiances.

Nair, maybe too obviously, parallels the corporate turmoil with his love of SoHo artist Erica (Kate Hudson) and his love of his country. Add those competing life elements to aggressive American security (Changez’s encounter with the TSA should chill any of us who travel and wonder what it would be like to be targeted), and you have a young man changing by the minute.

If for nothing else, The Reluctant Fundamentalist is a story about fundamental beliefs, none more glaringly different than the West and Islam. The action, framed by a story of journalist Bobby Lincoln (Liev Schreiber) interviewing Changez about the hostage situation, becomes multileveled and allegorical, ending in more of a thriller with a banal surprise than a thoughtful treatise on the complicated nature of modern foreign affairs.

As we did for Argo, forget the hokey ending and enjoy the clash of cultures. It’s worth the trip.

John DeSando co-hosts WCBE 90.5’s It’s Movie Time and Cinema Classics, which can be heard streaming and on-demand at WCBE.org. Contact him at JDeSando@Columbus.rr.com