Movie Review: 'The Reluctant Fundamentalist' -- 3 stars
The Reluctant Fundamentalist
Directed by Mira Nair
Starring Riz Ahmed, Kate Hudson, Liev Schreiber, Kiefer Sutherland
Playing at the IFC Center and Lincoln Plaza
"The Reluctant Fundamentalist" is a decidedly middlebrow adaptation of Mohsin Hamid's 2007 best-selling novel about a Pakistani immigrant to New York City who is progressively radicalized in the years following 9/11.
It has a clunky framing device and the sort of mainstream vision of a difficult cross-cultural blend that recalls some of the easily digestible, awards-baiting Miramax films that dominated the '90s and the early 2000s. ("Chocolat," etc.).
Director Mira Nair is too invested in the surface, in pretty shots of protagonist Changez (Riz Ahmed) standing in a skyscraper and framed against the lush Manhattan skyline, say, or reporter Bobby Lincoln (Liev Schreiber) surveying the hustle and bustle of a Lahore market, to evoke the dark heart of this story.
But even on those sanitized terms, the film works.
Nair ("The Namesake") has spent much of her career exploring different facets of the displacement that is a fundamental part of the immigrant experience, the pressure to assimilate weighed against the importance of remaining true to one's heritage.
Changez's transition from elitist Princeton grad living the Wall Street dream to radical Lahore professor is depicted in convincing fashion. Ahmed conveys a stark inner sadness, while Nair builds a toxic combination of xenophobic attitudes, emotional misunderstandings and spiritual emptiness that drives him away from his American life.
Even if the movie is ultimately reduced to a simplistic "Is he or isn't he a terrorist?" dichotomy, which might not be what audiences are looking for right now, the journey to that point is worth the investment.