Mira Nair brings bestselling The Reluctant Fundamentalist to the screen

by Mark Burger

The Reluctant Fundamentalist , the adaptation of Mohsin Hamad’s international bestseller, a curious misfire from director Mira Nair. Interesting and relevant elements abound, yet a shaky structure that relies too heavily on flashbacks tends to diminish, rather than enhance, its impact — to say nothing of its intent.

A well-cast Riz Ahmad stars in the title role as Changez, a Pakistani Muslim who has achieved his ambitions — and his own version of the American dream — by graduating from an Ivy League school and finding success as a financial analyst at a prestigious Wall Street firm.

But in the wake of 9/11, he repeatedly finds himself the victim of abject suspicion and racial intolerance — and soon begins to take a more actively pessimistic view of his adopted homeland and its people. His romantic involvement with a bohemian artist (Kate Hudson) further unleashes his anger when, in one of the film’s most unconvincing scenes, she unveils an artistic “tribute” to their relationship that infuriates him. The romantic aspect of the story is its weakest and meekest component, despite Ahmad and Hudson’s efforts to make it believable.

Caught between two cultures, neither of which he feels entirely comfortable with, the aptly Changez has become the very threat to US security that he was one unjustly perceived as. This is the tale he relates to an American journalist (Liev Schreiber), who’s actually in cahoots with the CIA and on a deadline — not to file a story, but to prevent further bloodshed.

Nair’s penchant for exploring different cultures is very much in evidence here, but so too is her lack of expertise in building suspense. The Reluctant Fundamentalist is structured somewhat as a political thriller, yet interest tends to wane during a protracted build-up to its inevitable(?) climax. The Reluctant Fundamentalist isn’t without its timely and valid observations, yet it struggles to convey them in compelling terms.

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