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Friday, May 3, 2013

The Reluctant Fundamentalist Movie Review

Mira Nair, best known for her Academy Award nomination for "Salaam Bombay", is back with a political thriller. At least that is its genre. Whether it succeeds or not at conveying this is up for debate. I'm not saying it's bad. I'm just saying that it's inconsistent.

Based on the novel by Moshin Hamid, "The Reluctant Fundamentalist" bites off a huge chunk and tries to cover an awful lot of topics. Its focus wanders between terrorism, political correctness, downsizing, and discrimination against Moslems in America, in the wake of the World Trade Center disaster.

It's 2010, and Changez Khan (Riz Ahmed), a young Pakistani professor is being interviewed by Bobby Lincoln (Liev Schreiber), an American journalist. The setting is a tea room in Lahore, Pakistan, and political tensions are boiling over. Using flashbacks, we learn that Khan was an exceptionally gifted student in America who ends up recruited by a very prestigious firm that specializes in downsizing of corporations. Jim Cross (Kiefer Sutherland) is the ruthless head of the firm. He quickly adopts Khan as his rising young star and Khan loves his new position in life.

When the World Trade Centers come down, attitudes towards Khan quickly change. He is now looked upon with suspicion by people in the streets and even by some of his co-workers. It is clear that he is disturbed by this, which seems like a reasonable reaction. Khan has met Erica (Kate Hudson), a young, successful artist who is psychologically damaged from the death of her last love, about a year earlier. Their relationship never rings particularly true. Even when he gets through to her and her inevitable hard façade drops, no on-screen chemistry develops.

As the interview between Lincoln and Khan evolves, we learn that the participants may not be what they initially represented. These scenes work much better than the scenes in America. There is a real tension pulsating through these moments and they save "The Reluctant Fundamentalist" from being a total disappointment.

This is a vastly uneven film. It tries to cram too many messages into a coherent story. Unfortunately, that task is unattainable. However, when it cooks, it rolls quite well. If only they could have trimmed it and tightened it up a bit. As it is, I can only give it a reluctant nod of approval that could have been so much more.

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