Sign up for our newsletters    

Baltimore City Paper home page.

Review: The Reluctant Fundamentalist, opening today at the Charles

May 17, 2013


The Reluctant Fundamentalist

Directed by Mira Nair

Opens at the Charles Theatre May 17

We know what the American Dream is, but what is the Pakistani Dream? This is the question Changez, the protagonist of The Reluctant Fundamentalist, asks himself as we see him transition from an up-and-coming Wall Street business analyst to what may be considered a radical when he returns to his native Pakistan.

The Reluctant Fundamentalist revolves around a conversation between American journalist Bobby Lincoln (Liev Schreiber) and Changez (Riz Ahmed), a Pakistani national working as a professor in a local university who is suspected of being part of a radical academic movement. The two discuss Changez’s journey from westernized businessman to principled traditionalist.

A series of flashbacks takes us through Changez’s early days in the United States as a new Princeton graduate who lands his first job at a prestigious New York City firm. His talents are immediately recognized by Jim Cross (Kiefer Sutherland), a powerful executive who specializes in helping businesses maximize profit, most commonly through finding redundancies and corporate downsizing. Under the tutelage of Cross, Changez is on the fast track to becoming the youngest partner in the history of the firm. He dates a beautiful woman (Kate Hudson). The American Dream seems well within his grasp.

Before it’s fully realized, however, the events of Sept. 11 change everything. The attacks serve as a catalyst in both Changez and his environment. The respected young analyst becomes a target for racial profiling and unwarranted suspicions as fear and jingoism set in. Changez reaches a boiling point when charged with eliminating the job of a culturally important Turkish publisher. Faced with the moral quandary that develops, he refuses to eliminate the man’s position, instead quitting the firm to return to Pakistan.

At this point, director Mira Nair makes something of a misstep. Changez’s return to Pakistan is abrupt, and the flashbacks jump immediately to his work in academia. We understand his motivations for returning to Pakistan and changing his career but are not given enough information to discern whether his experiences have caused him to shift his ideology completely or become radicalized. This is, of course, part of the intended mystery and suspense of the film, but it lacks finesse on the part of the filmmaker. The purposeful ambiguity of the film’s final act muddies what is an otherwise interesting examination of the cultural rift men like Changez have experienced in post-9/11 America.

This adaptation of Mohsin Hamid’s international bestseller is an engaging and thought-provoking film, and Nair exercises a particularly deft hand when tackling complex cultural issues, even if not quite as successfully as her prior work in Monsoon Wedding or Salaam Bombay! The breakthrough performance of Riz Ahmed and strong supporting roles from Schreiber and Sutherland keep the viewer engrossed in the subtleties of Changez’s shift from someone who loves America, to someone who fears it.