The Reluctant Fundamentalist

WRITTEN BY: Ami Boghani, Mohsin Hamid, William Wheeler
STARRING: Riz Ahmed, Liev Schreiber, Kiefer Sutherland, Kate Hudson
RATING: 4 stars

It is fascinating to see a film depict a story in which an innocent person becomes hardened and disillusioned by the harsh realities of life after being exposed to stereotypes and xenophobia. The Reluctant Fundamentalist cleverly presents the effects of our Western post-terrorism world in which anyone who looks different is automatically feared by the overly suspicious and ignorant few.

Adapted from a novel by Mohsin Hamid, who co-wrote the screenplay with Ami Boghani and William Wheeler, the film is set in present day Pakistan during a hostage crisis. Changez (Riz Ahmed) is a professor at a university and is suspected of being involved in the crime. He agrees to sit down with columnist Bobby Lincoln (Liev Schreiber) to tell his story. In a series of flashbacks, we see a young, smart Changez move to New York to experience the so-called American dream, make some money and support his family. He falls in love with Erica (Kate Hudson) and begins working on Wall Street under the guidance of Jim Cross (Kiefer Sutherland) at the prestigious financial consultancy company Underwood Samson. Changez struggles with racial tensions in the US but things get far worse after the September 11 terrorist attacks. He becomes targeted and discriminated against by authorities simply because he looks like a foreign Muslim and is therefore suspected of extremism and terrorism.

At times, perhaps the film over simplifies the racial and religious issues in the US. Nonetheless, it is an interesting exploration of what many foreigners are exposed to from xenophobic people. I don't mean that as a slight against the American culture, just on certain narrow minded people who exist in every culture. Furthermore, the film says a lot about fundamentalism in a religious, political and social context. If you pay close enough attention, there is actually a lot of thought-provoking ideas presented in the story that are worth debating afterwards. The film raises many questions, but wisely, offers no solutions.

Ahmed is exceptional as Changez, creating a complex, intriguing, sympathetic and mysterious character. Hudson is solid as the girlfriend who is far more damaged than she appears. It is good to see her in a serious role. I have long been a big fan of Sutherland's acting ability and he is equally as strong in this film. Schreiber is also impressive, particularly as the story reveals more about his character.

Director Mira Nair has made good use of editing techniques to keep the story flowing with enough intrigue. The cinematography is also very good at depicting the contrasts between New York and Lahore. The film is only weakened by its slow pace in some moments. I also was not a fan of the final scene that left me cringing.

Hopefully, this film can open people's eyes to the racial tensions in Western cultures like the US and Australia where, although we try to be open, we are so often closed off to foreigners from cultures we do not take the time to understand.