The Reluctant Fundamentalist

Based on the novel by Mohsin Hamid, The Reluctant Fundamentalist's generally gripping drama painfully confronts the great cultural divide in people’s thinking created by the tragedy of 9/11. It is a serious-minded film whose politics demand soul-searching and attention.

The first part of the film builds suspense by blurring the right/wrong line between a suspiciously bearded young prof with burning eyes, Changez Khan (British-Pakistani actor Riz Ahmed) and seasoned Yank scribe Bobby Lincoln (Liev Schreiber), who seems to have all the cool values. The place is Lahore and the action kicks off with the abduction of an older American professor by an al-Qaeda-like political group, setting the scene for tension and violence. In a dazzlingly edited kidnapping scene, the teacher steps out of a movie with his wife and is spirited away while Khan participates, Godfather-style, in an ecstatic Sufi music concert with a group of family and friends.

The latter’s involvement in the crime is clearly suggested, and he initially emerges as a villain. But when the journalist meets him for an interview in a cheap student hotel, surrounded by Khan’s protective and menacing entourage, the Pakistani’s first words are, "Looks can be deceiving." And so it turns out as he recounts his life to Bobby , from his outstanding academic success at Princeton to being hired as a financial analyst at a famous Wall Street firm.

His brilliance and ruthlessness make him the pet of his employers, and for every company he dismembers, promotion follows. While in New York, he meets sophisticated photographer Erica, played by a red-haired Kate Hudson. More intriguing is the strange bond that links the young analyst to his boss and mentor Jim Cross, played with sinister intelligence by Kiefer Sutherland. Riz Ahmed is relaxed and appealing even in the negative role of his star pupil blindly pursuing the American Dream. Only later, after 9/11, is his conscience shocked awake by the change of attitude in America and the humiliating treatment his name and nationality earn him. A business trip to Istanbul, where he is asked to shut down a 30-year-old publishing house, marks a decisive stage in his inner journey towards his cultural roots.

As a wave of xenophobia washes over America, the balance between Changez and Bobby in Lahore begins to shift. Nair is extremely careful not to demonize the American or the Pakistani but rather to suggest how much they have in common, had politics not put them on opposite sides of the table sipping tea, but inches away from a loaded gun.

The Reluctant Fundamentalist

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