“We take a long, harsh look into national identity and culture in what is a truly gripping piece of cinema...”
Beginning with a captivating opening sequence, where we delve into Pakistani culture at a seemingly traditional party held at a family home; The Reluctant Fundamentalist is a film that proceeds to then study race and discrimination, and the inevitable difficulties people must face when attempting to adapt to life in another country, set amidst the radicalisation of America following 9/11.
Changez (Riz Ahmed) is a lecturer in Pakistan, taking part in an interview with gonzo journalist Bobby (Liev Schreiber) who is inadvertently accusing his subject of being involved in the recent kidnapping of an American professor. In an attempt to reaffirm his innocence, Changez begins to recall his own story, as we enter the world of an intellectual man who once has the world at his feet, but saw his life crumble beneath him, much to do with the colour of his skin.
Moving to America to study, Changez landed a prestigious job on Wall Street, working under new boss Jim (Kiefer Sutherland) at a financial corporation. He meets artist Erica (Kate Hudson) and falls in love, as it seems this young man hailing from the other side of the world is living the American dream – but is it his dream? Temptations to move home to his family arise, and when he finds himself subject to racial discrimination following the 9/11 attacks, suddenly cracks begin to appear, as we then try to fit Changez's past with the ongoing hunt for the American hostage.
The Reluctant Fundamentalist takes a poignant and wry look into discrimination and ignorance, as we watch on as an intelligent, harmless young man struggles to adapt in the seemingly accommodating city of New York. As a study of one mans character, we rely on Ahmed to turn in a strong performance as our protagonist and he doesn't disappoint in the slightest, with what is arguably his finest performance to date.
However director Mira Nair can be accused of compiling too many correlating narratives within this feature, as it becomes increasingly difficult to know where to pay your attentions. Changez undergoes issues within his love life, his profession, his family commitments, his own identity and prejudice, not to mention the main overriding plot of the kidnapping – which given everything else going on, you lose touch with completely. To add to the pile of problems in Changez's life, we also dig deeper into characters such as Erica and Jim – the former struggling to overcome the death of her past boyfriend (of which she was the cause), and the latter potentially a closet homosexual. It's confusing, isn't it?
That aside, The Reluctant Fundamentalist bears an important, paramount message; that of not judging a book by it's cover, as we take a long, harsh look into national identity and culture in what is a truly gripping piece of cinema. Someone should show this film at the next BNP meeting; it may influence them into rethinking a thing or two.