The Reluctant Fundamentalist is a film adaptation of the Booker Prize shortlisted novel of the same name.
Directed by Mira Nair (Monsoon Wedding, The Namesake, Amelia), the film centres on a conversation between reporter and undercover CIA agent Bobby Lincoln (Liev Schreiber) and Pakistani university professor Changez (Riz Ahmed) who is a suspect in the disappearance of an American Professor working at the same university.
Changez details his experiences emigrating from Pakistan to America, which take the form of lengthy flashbacks. Here he excels at an Ivy League College, lands a high-flying corporate job and starts a relationship with a troubled artist (Kate Hudson). Changez embraces and loves his American lifestyle but all of this changes on September 11 when the Twin Towers fall. Changez is met with new suspicion and cruelty, which leads him to reassess the life he has chosen and move back to Pakistan.
There is something not quite right about this film. Despite a strong performance from Ahmed and some fine cinematography, it doesn’t seem to know what it wants to be. The central message of the film is well meaning, if somewhat overplayed. However, the film tries to take on too much, which results in a very complex situation becoming stereotyped, showing us little of the nuance of Nair’s earlier works.
There are really two separate films in play here, one dealing with the personal identity politics of Changez’s life up until and closely following 9/11 involving a somewhat out of place indie romance, and the other an intense political thriller where there is a missing man, and the constant threat of American violence against local Pakistani students. These two separate strands grind against each other, both in idea and form, and ultimately confuse the film’s meaning.
The Reluctant Fundamentalist makes some valid points about hysteria, capitalism and the massive power imbalance held by the West, but attempts to tackle too much resulting in cliché, which ultimately undermines the central conceit of the film.
** and a half stars out of five.
BY EMMA MCMANUS
The Reluctant Fundamentalist is in cinemas now.