Synopsis: A young Pakistani man is chasing corporate success on Wall Street. He finds himself embroiled in a conflict between his American Dream, a hostage crisis, and the enduring call of his family’s homeland
Based on Mosin Hahmed’s international best selling novel, The Reluctant Fundamentalist retrospectively charts the course of Changez’s (Riz Ahmed) life from middle class Pakistan, to his achieving his dream of becoming a high flying New York financial analyst and his eventual return to his homeland. Currently suspected by the CIA of being a terrorist involved in the kidnapping of a US citizen and professor at Lahore University, Changez’s story is told through his own recollections recounted to American journalist Bobby Lincoln (Liev Schrieber) over the course of a few hours. Lincoln wants to give Changez an opportunity to tell his version of who he is and where he stands, both politically and personally, as well as ascertaining whether he has any knowledge of the kidnapped professor.
It is this issue of taking sides that is the key theme of The Reluctant Fundamentalist as Changez describes his experiences of being a Pakistani national who finds himself in an emotional tug of war. On the one hand he loves America, the country that has given him every opportunity. And yet following the tidal change in New York on September 11th 2001 he can’t help but question his moral and personal choices as he is harassed and persecuted for the colour of his skin and choice of facial hair.
Directed by acclaimed Indian director Mira Nair, it is for the most part a wonderfully constructed thriller in that it never lets you rest on one side of the fence as to whether or not Changez is involved in the kidnapping or not. In particular the scenes between Changez and Lincoln as the mood of the crowd slowly turns from tense to combustible as the Police and students come close to clashing are well handled and genuinely tense. On an emotional level it is an interesting look at issues of the importance of cultural identity and pre-conceptions of aesthetic identity in a post 9/11 world.
At times it feels like it gets bogged down and the relationship between Changez and his New York bohemian artist lover Erica (Kate Hudson) felt slow to develop. But they are minor criticisms of a film that presents a compelling view of a man who loves a nation and a dream but can’t reconcile his own cultural identity crisis. Riz Ahmed gives another strong central performance and is setting himself as another British actor making his way in Hollywood. Equally it was refreshing to be reminded that Kate Hudson is more than generic rom-com fodder, putting in a heartfelt performance as the broken object of Ahmed’s affections.
Conclusion: A compelling look at issues of identity and perspective depending on which side you have chosen. If a little longer than necessary at 130 minutes.
Cast: Riz Ahmed, Kiefer Sutherland, Kate Hudson, Liev Schrieber