Reluctant Fundamentalist, The2013
Director: Mira Nair
Stars: Riz Ahmed, Liev Schrieber, Keifer Sutherland, Kate Hudson
Release Company: IFC Films
MPAA Rating: R
In light of the recent Boston Marathon bombings, Mira Nair's The Reluctant Fundamentalist could hardly be more timely. It won't appeal to mass audiences seeking simplistic black and white answers or to people content to wrap themselves in comfortable red, white, and blue ideals. Like the novel it's based on, Nair's film explores ambiguous terrain and refrains from resolution.
Its central character strives to straddle two divergent worlds. The film doesn't always succeed balancing capitalistic fundamentalism and religious dogma, but thankfully it refuses to sink to jingoism and flag waving. Thus, it ranks among the most provocative releases of the year.
It's also among the most globalized, switching between New York, Istanbul, and Lahore to parallel its philosophical/political themes. Appropriately, the critical career decision takes place in Turkey, arguably the most adept location for balancing western and eastern ideals.
Over the immediate backdrop of a 2011 kidnapping, Pakistani professor protagonist Changez (Riz Ahmed) sips tea with American journalist Bobby Lincoln (Liev Schrieber) in a Lahore cafe. Curious why Changez has transitioned from being a Wall Street businessman to a bearded Pakistani repatriate, Lincoln implores the professor to tell his story. Suspicious of Lincoln's motives, Changez fills in his back story and urges Lincoln to listen fully to his narrative.... without judgement.
Changez's suspicions are quickly confirmed since Lincoln is soon revealed to be a CIA operative, but Changez's advice (twice repeated) is more directed at the audience. Most American audiences will relate to his earlier pursuit of the American dream--the highly intelligent, creative, and ambitious Princeton graduate who rises fast at Underwood Samson--a firm that specializes in ruthless corporate efficiency. But they will find disturbing Changez's initial response to 9/11 and to American reactions after the attack.
Kiefer Sutherland serves well as corporate executive Jim Cross, who sees great potential in the young Pakistani and takes him under his wing. Sutherland represents the fundamental ideals of capitalism (and lends automatic credibility and trust in U.S. security from his long time association with 24). American dreams include family, so Changez hooks up with beautiful Erica (Kate Hudson) and proceeds towards full westernization.
But 9/11 reveals cracks in the dream with racial profiling raising its ugly head. Airport security goes way beyond invasive pat downs and wrongful arrests and brutally racist interrogations cause Changez to question his American status. His girlfriend's art show cuts even more deeply. But Turkey provides the crucible for Changez's decision.
The American dream has general acceptance in the U.S. and has been adopted by most developed countries. But what is the Pakistani dream?
Changez asks the American journalist to listen to his full story to gain understanding. The same goes for the audience, but this will work only for those with an open mind.
Director Mira Nair is most well known for Monsoon Wedding, and she stages a wedding clip in her latest film that supplies a taste of Pakistan's beauty. But she also shows its chaotic street scenes in the most realistic ways that parallel her lesser known grittier offering, Salaam Bombay! While some will cite this to show another example of the movie's indecisiveness, this emphasizes the ambiguity of the film's basic theme. The film's protagonist boldly strikes his own path to navigate Life's confusing maze. There are no simple answers when capitalism and religious dogma face off.