The Reluctant Fundamentalist
An American journalist and a suspected terrorist chat in a Lahore, Pakistan, café. The sit-down between reporter Bobby Lincoln (Liev Schreiber) and firebrand Changez (Riz Ahmed) is occasioned by the kidnapping of a Westerner: as the presumed insurgent unfolds a flashback-heavy tale of his journey from Wall Street power player with rich artist girlfriend (Kate Hudson) to subversive, rabble-rousing university instructor, a team of US operatives tries to suss out Changez’s involvement in the abduction.
This scenario has all the makings of a spare, gripping story. But in adapting Mohsin Hamid’s first-person novel, director Mira Nair chooses to go flabbily macro with the story’s riches-to-radicals themes, as opposed to pointedly micro. Ticking-time-bomb suspense is not Nair’s forte, so she relies on Michael Andrews’ Middle East-inflected score to do most of the heavy lifting. The rest of the film takes place in a pre- and immediately post-9/11 past, re-created with a well-intentioned slickness that is alternately admirable and annoying. For every plus, like the frank acknowledgement of the racist atmosphere that arose after the towers fell, there’s a minus, like Kiefer Sutherland’s comically simplistic embodiment of an Ayn Rand capitalist.
What holds your attention is Ahmed, known for his work in the suicide-bomber satire Four Lions, whose ingratiating charisma makes a potent, politically charged combination with his character’s ambiguous motivations. Even as you question Changez’s every Agitator 101 utterance – and the film’s slapdash attempts to use him as a vehicle for a grand statement about the shock, awe and alienation of our modern world – you can’t help but fall under his magnetic spell. Keith Uhlich
Dir Mira Nair
Category IIB, 130 mins, opens on Thu Sept 12