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The Reluctant Fundamentalist
by M. Faust
Pakistan, the United States’s consistently unstable south Asian ally in the perpetual war on terror, usually seems in peril of becoming a failed state. One with nuclear weapons. And a lot of angry Sunni fundamentalists. At first, Mira Nair’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist seems to be about at least some of this, but it really isn’t. It’s not even about a recognizable Pakistan or America, the ideological poles that provide the framework for its story.
That story is really about the divided soul of Changez (Riz Ahmed), a young Pakistani man who seeks his fortune in the office suites of American finance capitalism. The son of a well-born but financially straitened poet in Lahore, Changez becomes an Ivy League graduate and highly regarded associate in a Wall Street firm in order to redeem himself and his family. (The movie never quite makes clear whether he’s employed at a private equity company like Mitt Romney’s, or a management consultant.) He’s on his way to the top when 9-11 explodes. It’s not difficult to imagine the potential for insults to his dignity and abuse of his rights that can be visited on him as an Asian Muslim, and the movie duly provides them in exaggerated form, even as Changez professes his love of this country. Curiously, these hurts don’t prove decisive in the course of his life. As he reorganizes companies and fires employees, his conscience and his father’s humane values begin to nag at him, along with a residual longing for his homeland.
All this is related in a very lengthy flashbacked autobiography by Changez to Bobby (Liev Shreiber, largely wasted in yet another nearly worthless movie role), a Lahore-based American journalist who wants to talk about the abduction of an American university professor. Both men may be other than what they seem, either more or less, and as their meeting becomes tenser, the circumstances seem more ominous.
But Eric Ambler or Graham Greene this isn’t. The movie is rather a mess. It takes an inordinately long time to get through Changez’s disillusioning American experiences and to his ostensibly taut confrontation with Bobby in Lahore. Both characters, especially Bobby, too often resemble graphic-novel caricatures. Nair (Monsoon Wedding) tries to build to a crashing and then poignant resolution, but her movie is too full of inflated sentiments, clumsy melodramatics and flattened tension.
Nair apparently is still adept at colorful and panoramic scene setting, but this movie gives little evidence of a facility with political events and ideas, or the construction of suspense.
Watch the trailer for The Reluctant Fundamentalist
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