Starring: Riz Ahmed, Liev Schreiber, Keifer Sutherland
You may like this if you like: Body of Lies (Ridley Scott, 2008), Zero Dark Thirty (Kathryn Bigelow, 2012), The Assassination of Richard Nixon (Niels Mueller, 2004)
In a café and in Lahore, Pakistan American journalist Bobby Lincoln (Schreiber) interviews University lecturer Changez Khan (Ahmed). After the kidnapping of an American lecturer at the local University, Changez is suspected to be involved and Lincoln is determined to get the truth. So begins Changez telling Lincoln his life story and how he moved to America to live his own American dream and become a wealthy Wall Street analyst. After the events of 9/11 things changed and he is met with constant suspicion causing him to question his morality and loyalties. Is he a terrorist though? Is Lincoln working for the CIA? As the two men talk and learn more about each while a riot is occurring outside, many questions will be answered while new questions posed of each other.
I have not read the book, but have heard good things and at its heart The Reluctant Fundamentalist has some very interesting and thought provoking ideas. Without wanting to give too much away, as we gradually learn more about the enigmatic Changez more interesting ideas and broader questions emerge. Despite this, this is a slightly inconsistent and overlong film that perhaps tries too hard at hammering home too many ideas. Post 9/11 some of the scenes, though perhaps realistic to some extent, do feel a little contrived and clichéd. It is very well shot, acted and there are some terrifically tense scenes but overall at 125 minutes it all feels a little bloated.
Anyone watching this film with any knowledge of the world will not learn anything new from these scenes of Changez in post 9/11 New York. I understand they are there for a reason but are perhaps emphasised a little too often and shown for too long when just being mentioned by Changez would be enough for any intelligent viewer. The subplot involving Changez’ relationship with New Yorker Erica (Kate Hudson) does not work too well either in my view. I understand she is there to depict some of the American attitudes that drive the narrative but some scenes involving her achieve nothing.
When the film feels like it is dragging (and it does at times) and it feels like descending into boring lecturing Riz Ahmed’s charismatic and extremely watchable performance keeps things going along nicely. His performance as the lead character in Four Lions would have been so easy to get wrong, but he was exceptional in that film and once again is fantastic here. The role of Changez would be easy to get wrong but he is note perfect and provides an extremely watchable and charismatic screen presence. He does very often carry the films over stuffed and clunky episodic narrative. Schreiber is suitably and effectively intense in his role.
With what is going on around Lincoln and Changez’ conversations there is also seems to be an intention from both screenwriter and director to make this a tense against the clock thriller. This feels more like an annoying and contrived distraction from what is potentially an interesting character study. There are some interesting revelations admittedly, but it is when Changez is revealing his inner thoughts that the film as it’s most compelling. This is a film that could be interpreted as a little anti Western in many of its depictions of us lot, but some of Changez’ rational thoughts and justifications do provide a genuinely sympathetic character and some thought provoking ideas.
The Reluctant Fundamentalist is a film with some interesting thoughts and ideas, depicted with admirable and compassionate ambition but feels overstuffed and at times a tad boring. It could have done with being at least twenty minutes shorter but is predominantly very watchable, mainly due to Ahmed’s fantastic and charismatic central performance.