"The Reluctant Fundamentalist" (2013)- Movie Review

Directed by Mira Nair
Written by William Wheeler (based of Mohsin Hamid’s novel)
Starring Riz Ahmed, Kate Hudson and Liev Schreiber

‘Riveting Storytelling’

Visualize yourself reaching your goals or dreams in life. A cheerful lifestyle might await you; consisting of important relationships, a luxurious status and the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to prove your talents to the world. You have miraculously accomplished what you have wanted to do all your life. What could possibly go wrong?

A life-changing event could occur. One that neither you nor any of the people around you could predict coming. In a mere matter of months, your life could change drastically and negatively impact your status as a citizen in a country. Friends could turns their backs on you, society could start treating you as a threat and any dreams you ever had of pursuing a certain career could suddenly vanish. Innocence could be tested, vital decisions may have to be made and a certain tolerance will need to be maintained in order to get through this troublesome time in life. Yet the sinking feeling of knowing that isn’t your fault, but the misdoings of others could change your views on the world. It could also, as a matter of fact, change who you are as a person.

This is undeniably shown with deep insight in Mira Nair’s “The Reluctant Fundamentalist”. Based on Mohsin Hamid’s best-selling novel, the film explores the consequences innocent people face due to the immorality of other’s actions. The story follows Changez Khan (Riz Ahmed), a young and determined man from Pakistan who chases success in America’s corporate world . His finds solace in the country and reaches his dreams until the occurrence of 9/11, which makes him realize that he’s just in the wrong place at a disastrous time. Changez’s life is turned upside down as he is forced to question his own identity.

Director Mira Nair has constructed a riveting story of tolerance, innocence and origin. She has managed to tackle a heavy, and quite risky subject matter with ease and skill. The complexity and sheer controversy behind the topic is not something that just anybody would be able to do justice to. However, even filmmakers with immense talent can get befuddled with such scope and opportunity. Nair accomplishes unbelievable feats with “The Reluctant Fundamentalist”, but often gets carried away with her ambition and seems slightly confused regarding what she really wants to say about the topic. The result is a film that has countless moments of greatness, but also an unshakable tendency to fall apart and become convoluted. As an entire package, its a solid effort that lacks the execution needed to fully raise awareness about it’s subject.

Nevertheless, there’s no denying the fact that Nair has somewhat succeeded. She chooses to step into territory that most filmmakers of this day and age usually avoid. Consider this: how many 9/11 movies have been released over the last couple of years? Resoundingly not many. In fact, the only memorable one that actually received critical attention was “United 93”, back in 2006. Since then, it seems like directors around the world have completely taken the topic out of their minds. Its a difficult subject to bring to the screen due to the accuracy and controversy that is associated with it. While “The Reluctant Fundamentalist” doesn’t go into full detail of the 9/11 event, it still explores the impact it had on people. Yet, instead of showing how 9/11 impacted the lives of Americans, it displays the harsh consequences an innocent Muslim faced because of it. Its an idea that hasn’t been shown before on the big screen, and for that reason a challenging project for Nair to depict.

When dealing with two different races its possible to present propaganda targeting one of them. In the case of this film, Nair could have easily shed a negative light on Americans but she smartly chooses not to. The director takes a more realistic approach to the subject matter, and that’s what makes the movie significant in today’s world. Its fine filmmaking which works due to excellent performances, intelligent direction and an effective soundtrack.

Riz Ahmed is fantastic in the role of the a man torn between two countries, his homeland on one hand and America on the other. Its the kind of role that requires skill and devotion, but most importantly a motivation unlike any other. Ahmed possesses all of those qualities and as a result, makes for a strong and likable protagonist. He masterfully handles two completely different personas: one of a young, determined man desperate for success and the other of a man who is filled with undying resentment. It isn’t easy to excel in both personas, but Ahmed shines with great panache and talent. He dominates every scene of his with a striking presence, something that not all actors can accomplish. One usually expects a well-known actor to play a character of profound and intriguing depth. Ahmed isn’t very popular in the industry, yet he still paves the way for an enlightening character study.

The supporting cast is terrific. Standouts include Kate Hudson as a gifted photographer and Kiefer Sutherland as a leading professional in the corporate world.

Michael Andrew’s score perfectly fits in with the setting and theme of the film. Each song adds unexpected depth to the subject matter that is being explored. A particular scene in which the music stands out is the opening sequence. The conflict is that of a person getting kidnapped, and in order to add a layer of intensity to the moment, the filmmakers uses a Qawwali arrangement called “Kangna”. This song blends in exceptionally well with the mood of the scene.

Yet even when considering all of the positive aspects of the “The Reluctant Fundamentalist”, they are not strong enough to completely redeem the cons. William Wheeler’s screenplay is the real culprit, bringing up nearly all of the film’s problems. A rather complicated and unnecessary kidnapping subplot is present throughout much of the movie, and its handled in a messy manner that could be confusing for viewers. This part of the film brings it’s quality down in a significant way. The subplot represents typical, very conventional Hollywood and doesn’t help re-enforce the movie’s ultimate message. There’s no focus on what’s trying to be proved with the subject, and the results are underwhelming. In a sense, the plot makes the movie seem like two completely different films stuffed in one package. The filmmakers clearly establish that their goal is to please two distinct audiences: fans of serious dramas and fans of intense thrillers. However, this creates a stark, strange contrast that makes it appear like they are confused about their topic.

In the end, “The Reluctant Fundamentalist” is a well-made film about the pain innocent citizens have to endure because of the wrongdoings of others. Despite it’s dreary flaws, the movie depicts an intense almost weighty subject matter with surprising aptitude, and a rare awareness for the importance of the topic. The film seems to be fit for Eastern audiences, particularly Pakistanis, yet an intriguing question is what would Western-based people think of it? Whether the reaction is positive or negative, one thing is undeniable: the movie will surely be sparking interesting discussions over the years to come.

3.5/5 stars

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