Saturday, May 4, 2013

The Reluctant Fundamentalist (2013)


It would be too trite to write go see The Reluctant Fundamentalist because it is especially important so recently after the Boston Marathon bombing by alienated Chechen-Americans.  First off, the main character in this story is Pakistani and second, no film, no matter how closely related to an actual event, can help explain the true motivations it knows nothing about.

Some reviews have juxtaposed this film with the Boston event and I think it is unnecessary.  The Reluctant Fundamentalist is a screen adaptation written by William Wheeler based on the same-titled 2007 best-selling novel by Mohsin Hamid.  It is also a bit odd that Mira Nair signed up to direct the movie since she is a native Indian.  India and Pakistan have a combined history based on war, suspicion, and accusations.  Bravo to Nair for being brave enough to reach across the aisle.

The Reluctant Fundamentalist is two separate films in one since it is told in flashback.  In present day Lahore, Pakistan, Changez (Riz Ahmed) is a popular university lecturer and also a suspect after an American professor is kidnapped.  The CIA believes Changez spouts anti-American themes in his classroom and associates with known Islamist militants.  He sits down to tell his story to Bobby Franklin (Liev Schreiber) who is an American ex-pat journalist living in Lahore.

The other story, told in flashback, chronicles Changez’s graduation from Princeton, his internship at a prestigious Wall Street firm specializing in valuing companies and finding the perfect way to downsize them, and his relationship with a trust fund artist, Erica (Kate Hudson).  His time at the company working for demanding boss Jim Cross (Kiefer Sutherland) is a highlight as Changez shows a special knack for identifying redundancies and inefficiencies.  His relationship with Erica comes across forced and choppy and her penultimate ‘art’ project is as believable as Kate Hudson with natural black hair.

The catalyst for change occurs while Changez watching the airliners fly into the World Trade Center towers on 9/11; he smiles and feels emotions of happiness as he observes a Goliath brought to its knees.  These feelings and a handful of other racial profiling indignities shake Changez’s moorings loose and he finds himself increasingly alienated from the life he has been chasing for so many years.     

Back to present day Lahore, the conversation with Bobby about his past and his knowledge of the kidnapped professor reach political thriller levels of tension.  Unfortunately, the last 20 minutes or so of the film fall completely off the tracks.  Time is running out, students are about to riot in the street, and the CIA is about to bust in the door; however, Changez just sits back to tell Bobby more about a girl he once knew.

Finally, the story becomes so ridiculous it makes the drive off the cliff in Thelma & Louise look like a pothole compared to this ending.  What a shocking letdown from a story whose first half was so promising.  First, the pacing slows way down with one too many long shots of Changez with a thousand yard stare contemplating his life and culminating in the final 10 minutes of head-shaking awfulness.  

The film makes a direct comparison between Wall Street financial raiders and violent Islamist militants because they both use the word fundamental.  Stretch Armstrong couldn’t hold this ridiculous analogy together.  There is no overarching moral or idea to take away with you from the theater, just focus on the first half and try and forget everything that happens afterwards.

Directed by: Mira Nair
Written by: William Wheeler, Ami Boghani, Mohsin Hamid
Starring: Riz Ahmed, Kate Hudson, Liev Schreiber, Kiefer Sutherland, Om Puri, Shabana Azmi, Martin Donovan, Nelsan Ellis

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