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THE RELUCTANT FUNDAMENTALIST – The Review

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Review by Barbara Snitzer

The most surprising detail I noticed while watching this movie is that Kate Hudson gets top billing. Fortunately, her locks and silliness are somehow tamed by her being brunette.

The more surprising detail I learned after having watched the movie is that The Reluctant Fundamentalist is fiction, based on the novel of the same name by Mohsin Hamid.

An even more surprising post-viewing detail I learned was that while the movie globe-trots, the book takes place in only one location, that of the café in Lahore, Pakistan where Changez (Riz Ahmed) meets with American journalist Bobby (Liev Schreiber). At the beginning of their meeting in the café, Changez insists that Bobby listen to Changez’ story in its entirety lest he fail to understand why Changez’ fundamentalist activities are indeed, reluctant.

This might be the first time a great movie made me not want to read the book. One critic even noted that this movie should be the textbook example of how to adapt an “unadaptable novel” for the screen.

While the question of whether the story was true or not didn’t preoccupy me while I was watching, I did believe it was a real story- this is intended as a compliment. The story is compelling, believable, and challenging.

A minor surprising detail I learned after seeing the movie is that the movie’s lead actor, Riz Ahmed, had also starred in 2010’s Four Lions, the funniest movie about religion since Monty Python’s Life of Brian.

Although born in England, Ahmed is of Pakistani origin and he should be proud that he capably carries the entire movie playing a sympathetic complex character; his performance should challenge Hollywood’s habit of casting Arab actors as only evil terrorists. It does help that he’s hot.

Changez is the namesake reluctant fundamentalist, and the movie portrays just how such an oxymoronic characterization can take place. Changez is a graduate of Princeton whose talents earn him a job at an elite Wall Street Firm and the special attention of his boss and mentor Jim Cross, (Kiefer Sutherland).

With Wall Street money, a hot faux-bohemian girlfriend,Erica (Kate Hudson), and acceptance into elite society, Changez is living the American dream. Changez lacks the cynicism to be cautious as his life keeps getting better and better.

This quality is part of Changez’ successful personality, and had be been less naïve, it wouldn’t have protected him against the actions of his fellow countrymen that ultimately robbed him of that perfect life.

9-11 occurs while Changez is on a business trip with his colleagues in the Philippines. His departure location and nationality cause him to separated from his peers upon their arrival at the airport in New York; this is the first crack in a separation that will become psychological and physical.

The movie shows Changez watching 9-11 unfold in horror. However, when he recounts this part of his story to Bobby he speaks of his “awe” of “arrogance brought low.” Perhaps Changez has chosen his words carefully, intending to offend Bobby who works to restrain his rage at hearing this.

From what I’ve read about the movie’s Indian director Mira Nair sharing a similar opinion, her strength as a storyteller is more dominant than her political views: Changez makes the offensive remarks in hindsight, the events taking on a different meaning in his current circumstances. There is no indication of this opinion as we see Changez watching the tragedy unfold on TV while in the Philippines. His reaction is simple horror, and interestingly, he doesn’t even anticipate the discrimination he incurs upon his return to the US.

I was surprised when his business group, led by Jim, treated Changez’ seizure by airport authorities so casually. Perhaps they were as naïve about the consequences of 9-11 as Changez or perhaps this was just the first example of Changez’ involuntary disposession of the privileged life he knew.

In the wake of 9-11, Changez has become a target for the fear and anxiety for those citizens who need a stand-in for the revenge they can’t take out on the dead terrorists. The movie smartly reflects a mirror on we Americans and forces us to examine our reaction to that event without promoting any specific agenda. This accomplishment is laudatory.

Just as Changez insists Bobby listen to the entire story, so must you watch the entire movie rather than read a summary.

The movie is excellent and I highly recommend it, but I am obligated to deduct from its rating for the very last moment of the movie- not the ending, just the last image of the movie. It feels very Hollywood and demeaning to the gravity of injustices endured by Changez.

4 1/2 of 5 Stars

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