The Reluctant Fundamentalist (2013) Review


Director: Mira Nair

Writers: Ami Boghani (screen-story), Mohsin Hamid (screen-story + novel), William Wheeler (screenplay)

Certificate: 15    Running Time: 2hr 10 Mins

Cast: Riz Ahmed, Kate Hudson, Kiefer Sutherland, Liev Schreiber, Om Puri

Plot: Changez (Riz Ahmed) chases the American dream in New York when he is faced with obstacles which make him re-consider his professional and personal loyalties

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An honorary Princeton university and Harvard Law school graduate, ex-consultant at global consulting powerhouse Mckinsey & Company and an internationally revered best selling author. Meet Mohsin Hamid, the prodigy from the pearl of the Punjab, Lahore. In 2007, Hamid’s astral ambition gave birth to an almost autobiographical, award winning novel ‘The Reluctant Fundamentalist’. The Guardian lauded the author for masterminding one of the books which ‘defined the decade’, lofty plaudits for such contentious subject matter. It was no surprise when Mira Nair (director of Monsoon Wedding, The Namesake) signed on to craft an on screen adaptation. The involvement of Hollywood stars Kate Hudson, Kiefer Sutherland and Liev Schreiber has certainly elevated the film’s profile internationally but there is no doubt that British Pakistani actor Riz Ahmed is the undisputed star of the show.

The Reluctant Fundamentalist is a bold piece of filmmaking which consistently asks pertinent ethical questions of its audience. To Nair’s credit, the film doesn’t descend into a biased social critique of the Western world. Instead Nair’s depiction of Changez Khan (Riz Ahmed) is poignant and grounded in the harsh reality of the plight suffered by many Muslims since the turn of the century. Ahmed’s performance is staggeringly truthful, a man who battles worldly prejudice whilst wrestling with inner demons in the depths of the corporate abyss. He constantly struggles to define his own identity, a man in a foreign land living by the norms of the society in which he inhabits. He is a chameleon that can mutate its form in order to survive amongst the fittest. We are whisked away on Changez’s journey, experiencing a morass of emotions on a turbulent flight through life. The interview style narrative works well, iteratively building towards its heart-racing finale. Liev Schreiber delivers a performance of real integrity and depth.

Many innocent lives have been impacted by propaganda and subsequent fear caused by the war on terror, the film is a stark illustration of how each one of us has a unique story. Events which are impacted by forces beyond our control, it is the reaction to such influences which categorizes the strong from the obsolete. Innately, man is fearful of the unknown, there are few who are willing to accept what they don’t understand. Instantly, people from all walks of life were faced with prejudice, not of their own making.

It is a film, which to a certain extent, does need one to relate to the character’s struggle, there will be many who may feel detached from the heart of the story. Cultural influences are strong in Nair’s storytelling which may alienate a certain demographic who may find certain scenes odd (particularly those in Lahore). A certain knowledge of Asian customs would enhance the overall viewing experience.  The underwhelming critical reviews are, therefore, not surprising.

The microscopic look at the ethical side of business raises an important moral question. Are we willing to destroy in order to conquer? A brief look back at history would conform to this theory, however, where do we draw the line? In order to progress as individuals can we overlook those we had to trample over to get there? Kiefer Sutherland is excellent as the cold-hearted businessman. A cog in a machine, driven by profit, that is willing to negate the human element from decision making; a part of a corporation that is brainwashing its employees to unite behind a single vision, regardless of the cost or unethical means of reaching their objectives. Nair presents such an argument with strong dramatic emotion.

Look out for the heart-wrenching burial scene which is one of the most impactful sequences of cinema in recent memory. Released in the UK on the eve of Pakistan’s momentous elections, The Reluctant Fundamentalist is a fascinating parallel to real life events in the sub-continent. There has never been a time when Pakistan has needed such leadership, direction and a leader of stature to inspire a generation to build a Pakistani dream. There is a burning sense of injustice amongst the youth which needs to be alleviated to create a prosperous future brimming with opportunity. Such cinema is thought provoking and raises the question: what defines success? Is it monetary gain, status and material wealth? Or rather a sense of inner peace and contentment with ones lot despite all worldly obstacles? Whichever side you fall upon, the Reluctant Fundamentalist will challenge you to reconsider.