The Reluctant Fundamentalist is more operatic than movielike at times
Starring Riz Ahmed, Liev Schreiber, and Kate Hudson. In English and Urdu with English subtitles. Rating not available.
Adapting Mohsin Hamid’s novel, with the help of screenwriter William Wheeler and others, veteran director Mira Nair paints some pivotal history in The Reluctant Fundamentalist as seen through the eyes of a young striver called Changez, played here by clear-eyed Riz Ahmed.
Our Zelig-like protagonist is the son of a prominent Pakistani poet (Om Puri) whose aristocratic family is down on its heels—not that his haughty mother (Shabana Azmi) would ever admit that. When we first meet Changez, he’s a bearded Lahore academic whom Americans abroad—as repped by CIA dude Martin Donovan and reporter Liev Schreiber—suspect is involved with militants. Not many years earlier, as is soon shown, he attended Princeton on a scholarship and aspired to nothing higher than working for a top financial analyst. (This allows a truly memorable turn from Kiefer Sutherland.) His subsequent rise and disillusionment follows changing currents after 9-11 and a sputtering relationship with rich kid Kate Hudson. Some would find that second problem even more annoying than harassment from Homeland Security.
With all these conflicting elements, plus shifting locations and time frames, you would expect some scenes to fizzle, and they do. As with Deepa Mehta’s Midnight’s Children, Nair’s literary adaptation is more operatic than movielike at times, and all of its weaknesses congeal in an over-amped, awkwardly staged showdown. (The novel’s ambiguous ending is a big part of its appeal, especially to university professors.) On the page, Changez burns out on carrying a sword for America in Chile, and here that’s moved to Istanbul—a shrewd move, in fact, and one of the film’s most soulful sequences.
Sadly, the weak finish is what you carry out of the theatre—along with the renewed conviction that airports are bad places for good people.