When you walk into a movie titled “The Reluctant Fundamentalist” you immediately start thinking about how this might make some people uncomfortable depending on their points of view. Surprisingly, the title only really comes into play at the end of the film and director Mira Nair (“Vanity Fair”) slowly allows the movie to peel back its layers in order to shed light on everyone’s quick prejudices and reactions. Nair offers a different point of view to steer the film to tell the story and send her message.
“The Reluctant Fundamentalist,” based on the book by Mohsin Hamid, follows the story of Changez Khan (Riz Ahmed), who comes to the United States in order to follow his dreams. The film begins in Lahore, Pakistan where Changez now teaches at a local university. A kidnapping has just occurred and he is targeted by U.S. Intelligence because they think he knows something. Bobby Lincoln (Liev Shreiber), a journalist, is assigned the task to speak with Changez in order to find out what he knows. Changez starts from the beginning with his story and requests Bobby to listen to the entire story and not just “bits and pieces.”
Changez begins the tale ten years ago when he is accepted into Princeton University and after graduating, gets a job with a prestigious firm in New York City. Along the way he meets an artist (Kate Hudson) who is still recovering from the death of her boyfriend. Regardless of this, they start a relationship that is mostly happy and yet sometimes tumultuous. As all these great things are happening for Changez, the events of September 11th occur while he is away on business in the Philippines. Of course, this changes things as he is immediately targeted for a thorough search on his way back from his trip simply because of the way he looks.
From then on forward, certain events (being profiled, mistreated, and targeted) cause the life that Changez had built for himself to fall apart. This eventually leads him back to Lahore and into the situation he currently finds himself in, but everything is not as it may seem.
“The Reluctant Fundamentalist” is filled with intense and brave story telling. It gives us the point of view of someone who is on the receiving end of certain events and actions. Its pace isn’t slow and the acting is generally superb. Mira Nair really touches on the emotional aspects as much as the political ones surrounding each event and builds it up to a suspenseful finale.
Riz Ahmed gives an exceptional performance. His portrayal of Changez falls in the generally sympathetic category, yet oftentimes you’re still questioning whether or not he is involved in wrongful actions. This is a testament to Ahmed’s ability to keep his facial expressions from giving away anything that is going on in a tense situation. He can look innocent and suspicious at the same time and that keeps you guessing during the last part of the movie.
Kate Hudson’s appearance is an unexpected surprise. Her character is damaged by the death of her boyfriend and her refusal to move past it really keeps her relationship with Changez from moving forward. Hudson has her high and low points, but does well enough in the supporting character role that you can forgive the way she sometimes delivers her lines.
The movie does have a two hour running time but that doesn’t deter it at all. There are no boring moments as each event does well in moving the story along. One of the only nuisances is the fact that some events leading Changez back to Pakistan sometimes seem a bit dramatized or contrived than they actually ought to be. Nair should have spent more time on them or executed them more thoroughly so that they could have fit in a little better within the scope of the final events of the film.
Regardless of that minor complaint, what one can truly appreciate about Mira Nair’s “The Reluctant Fundamentalist” is that it’s in the point of view of a non-American, which certainly changes the dynamic and perspectives of the many events that happen in the film. To also include the events of September 11th and the impact it had on Changez just because he’s Pakistani is very brave and Nair is to be applauded simply for deciding to go there. The film’s intention is to spark discussion, and it certainly does just that.