Monday, May 6, 2013

The Reluctant Fundamentalist [2012]

MPAA (PG-13)  CNS/USCCB (A-III) (3 Stars)  AVClub (B-)  Fr. Dennis (4 Stars)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (J. McAleer) review (O. Mozaffar) review
AV Club (S. Adams) review

The Reluctant Fundamentalist [2012] (directed by Mira Nair [IMDb], screenplay William Wheeler, screen story by Ami Boghani and Mohsin Hamid [IMDb] based on Hamid's critically acclaimed / internationally best-selling 2007 novel by the same name) is an excellent, articulate if at times (especially to an American audience) unnerving story that nonetheless deserves renown.

The story deserves renown because both the Indian-born/American college educated, since London/New York residing Nair [IMDb] (her previous films include the acclaimed Monsoon Wedding [2001], The Name Sake [2006] and Mississippi Masala [1991]), as well as the Pakistani-born/American college educated, since U.S./U.K. residing novelist Hamid [IMDb] come from exactly the same milieu as the central character of the story named Changez (played by Riz Ahmed), an upper-middle class Pakistani born/Princeton educated "hungry"/driven/rising "born to win" Wall Street consultant ... who came to a crisis of conscience regarding the "carnivorous"/"dog-eat-dog"/hyper-competitive life that he was leading.  Yes, 9/11 or at least the aftermath and the way he (darker skinned with a beard) suddenly found himself being treated played a part in his dissatisfaction (as no amount of money/prestige could really erase his Pakistani/Muslim "suspicious" looking roots in post-9/11 New York).  But the crisis clearly cut deeper than that.  Yet when he returned home to Pakistan after quitting his "to kill for" Wall Street consulting job and took a job teaching at a University in Lahore, he only became MORE SUSPICIOUS in the jittery eyes of American-intelligence. 

The question of "is he or isn't he?" (a Muslim fundamentalist or at least some kind of a Radical) is then the central question of the film.  To some extent, the answer to the question is telegraphed to the observant.  However, the jitteriness of the American intelligence people in Pakistan (and their need to be sure) is also quite well expressed in the film.  Indeed, to give urgency to the matter, the film plays out in the context of the abduction of an American professor in Lahore, one who was teaching at the university where Changez was teaching.  (The novel presents a less urgent scenario but more-or-less revolves around the same questions of who exactly is Changez and why is he being scrutinized as a possible threat?) 

In the chaos/confusion following the abduction of the American professor (one imagines that American intelligence is screaming/pressuring Pakistani officials for answers while Pakistani law enforcement is going about the business, however half-heartedly/conflictedly, of tracing down the whereabouts of the abducted American professor and his abductors knowing full well that many/most of the local residents probably sympathize more with the abductors than with the abducted American) a renowned currently Pakistan-based American print journalist named Bobby Lincoln (played by Liev Schriber) asks to interview Professor Changez on the matter of this recent abduction (after all, the American Prof taught at Changez' school) and  Professor Changez agrees.  The two meet at a local tea house (a public place ...) to conduct it.

It soon becomes clear that Prof. Changez is quite popular at that tea house (and outside ...)  It also becomes clear that it is precisely the professor's popularity among the locals that makes even the American journalist a bit jittery.  "What do you teach?"  "Political science."  "I've heard that some of your lectures are rather inflamatory."  "Look, I know that the 'Politics of Revolution' is taught as a course in your own country's institutions like Duke University, so don't immediately prejudice our interview like that."  "Well can I tape our interview?" "Only if you tape it in its entirety and that you listen to my whole story." (The journalist agrees).  "Okay, let me tell you from the outset, that contrary to what you may have heard, I am a lover of America.  I received my college education at Princeton ..."

The rest of the story ensues ... one that involves a very good/credible mentor, Jim Cross (played by Kiefer Sutherland) who was Changez' boss at the Wall Street firm and an American girlfriend named Erica (played in the film by Kate Hudson) who I thought was DEAD ON in her role (I write this because in my Grad School days at U.S.C. in Los Angeles when I was in my 20s about a 1/3 of my department was from India/Pakistan and I knew at least 5-6 "Ericas" who were at various times girlfriends of theirs). 

I think that the film and the book, which I read subsequently to seeing the movie but before writing this review were excellent.  (Those who read the book as well as see the movie will know that the two differ significantly in style if ultimately not in substance).  They provide a nuanced view of a complex person who lived many years in two worlds and was able to appreciate the positives of both of them.

I do think that the film may be "educated/elite class heavy."  I suspect that for many Americans the most accessible character in the film would be Changez' kind but often bewildered and in her own way complex American girlfriend Erica (again IMHO Kate Hudson was excellent).

However, I do hope that this nation's elite both in Government and in the Press (that is both Democrat and Republican and both CNN and Fox) see the movie/read the book as both the film/book offer a well-articulated view into the realities of those who lead/influence the groups that currently we most fear.  Even if a Fox-News commentator would hate the book/movie, it would not a waste of time for him/her to read/see it.

As such I admire both the skill and at times the courage of all those associated with this well-articulated and yet also nuanced story.

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1 comment:

  1. Its a masterpiece by Mira Nair. Its so gripping that sometimes the viewer also feels emotionally attached with the lead protagonist, Riz Ahmed. Questioning own's beliefs and goals is a difficult task which in this movie Riz Ahmed playing as a Pakistani goal oriented financial analyst has executed brilliantly.. Awesome performances packed with exceptional hard hitting dialogues differentiate this movie with other similar ones. A must watch..