The Reluctant Fundamentalist – 2012
Director Mira Nair
Starring Riz Ahmed, Kate Hudson, Liev Schreiber, Kiefer Sutherland, Om Puri, Shabana Azmi, Martin Donovan
Screenplay William Wheeler Written by Mohsin Hamid and Ami Boghani
I am thankful for the cinematic voice that is Mira Nair. Who else could take a subject as potentially divisive as a man’s movement from a devoted disciple of the American dream back to the cradle of his youth, Islam, and avoid making it a political statement? Equally amazing is Nair’s use of Pakistani and Indian actors to create a humanistic portrayal of Pakistani Muslims that plays well in both her native India and in Pakistan. She is a unique voice in the art that is filmmaking, and I have never seen anything like her.
Her handling of the subject that is Changez (Ahmed) is both energetic and compassionate. We are not meant to know where he stands and we don’t, until she allows us to. This would be hard to pull off without looking like a cheap stunt. His brilliance is tempered by what he learns throughout the film. I will not show what this is. I will only say it has nothing and everything to do with the title.
The script, based on Hamid’s novel of the same name, is filled with many smart moments, including a refreshingly honest first assessment of 9/11. In order to comprehend this, one must follow the instructions of Changez the storyteller and drop their preconceived notions. It must be viewed at a human level, and one separate from the nationalism U.S. citizens have shoved down their throats. The best parts of the film are lined with incredible, compelling questions that they are wise enough to leave unanswered. It’s in the work of Mira Nair that I am allowed to see with human eyes that there are fellow citizens of a world beyond our self-imposed borders.
The acting in a Nair film is often better than the actors do outside of working with her. Ahmed seems both gentle and monstrous, shocked and wizened. His performance is a key to our understanding, and he very ably takes us on his journey.
Schreiber has seldom seemed more engaged in a performance. He represents the American chorus, and in his reactions, we see ourselves. His performance is that of someone starts out knows the language, but fails to understand the culture, even if that culture holds many similarities to his own.
Kate Hudson gives us a deft reading of an “artist” who has some basic flaws that prevents her vision from being universal, keeping it more local, like those (namely her Uncle) that she seems to be better than. I appreciate this representation perhaps most of all, as her character seems the perfect representation of the liberal mindset in the U.S. like Julia Roberts daft heroine in Eat Pray Love. It’s tough to show oneself as so dense and seemingly well-meaning.
The Reluctant Fundamentalist is a movie that should be seen by everyone, regardless of race or creed. As we approach the anniversary of 9/11, it gives me comfort to know that there are people out there that are looking below the surface of life, even if doing so leaves them open to suspicion, criticism or undeserved aggression. I feel a connection to Mira Nair, and, thanks to her, the rest of humanity.
(***** out of *****)