Focus on the Fundamentals

The Reluctant Fundamentalist

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Director: Mira Nair

Cast: Kate Hudson, Kiefer Sutherland, Liev Schreiber, Martin Donovan, Riz Ahmed, Om Puri

Indian director Mira Nair’s elegant and gripping film adaptation of the brilliant Mohsin Hamid novel, The Reluctant Fundamentalist is a riveting tale of cross cultural clashes which occur when a wealthy Pakistani Changez, played by Riz Ahmed goes abroad and studies at Princeton and then pursues a cutthroat career in global economics at a prestige New York firm, Underwood Samson.

Hamid’s novel takes place as a dialogue between Changez confessing his love affair with America  to a yet unidentified man at a cafe in Lahore amidst growing tensions in the wake of 9/11 and America’s war on terror in Afghanistan and neighbouring Pakistan. It is an elegant and evocative tale of how Changez, was offered the American dream on a platter and then see it disintegrate before his eyes under the horrific aftermath of the Manhattan terror attacks. In the midst of his shifting view of the American dream, from being strip search at JFK to being humiliated in America’s corporate and artistic worlds, Changez’s embarks on a cross cultural relationship with a liberated Upper East side conceptual artist Erica.

Nair’s well crafted film version of The Reluctant Fundamentalist differs in parts to Hamid’s novel, exploring the inherent dangers of pursuing a Capitalist dream in a Western society which turns its back on you, in the wake of a Terrorist attack and the resulting shifts in American and Pakistani  perspectives. The film delicately portrays the backlash suffered by many American Muslims living and working  in the US, particularly New York in the aftermath of 9/11.

Changez as one of the bright young stars, recruited directly out of Princeton for the international corporate fixer agency Underwood Samson by the sexually ambivalent Jim Cross as his mentor, gorgeously underplayed by Kiefer Sutherland (Flatliners, The Sentinel), is sent on global excursions from Manila to Atlanta to Istanbul to assist companies in downsizing their labour force and maximizing profits with their corporate maxim being focus on the fundamentals.

At the start of his professional Manhattan career, Changez meets the dynamic and liberated Erica and soon embarks in a passionate affair. In Hamid’s novel , this complex romance is evocatively  told as part of Changez’s confessions to a supposed stranger at the Lahore cafe. In Nair’s film version this doomed relationship reaches a climax in a particularly poignant scene at a swish Manhattan gallery opening when Erica’s displays her vision of conceptual art and inspired by her own relationship with Changez through the title: I slept with a Pakistani once.

I slept with a Pakistani once.

Erica, awkwardly played by an auburn haired Kate Hudson (Nine, The Skeleton Key), unburdens her own guilt by embarking on a rebound affair, as a way of dealing with the sudden death of her boyfriend Chris of which she was the supposed cause. While the relationship between Changez and Erica is not as well sketched out in the film, the ambivalent dialogue in the Lahore cafe is fully realized in the scenes between Changez and Bobby Lincoln an experienced CIA operative played by Liev Schrieber (Defiance, Salt and the excellent TV series Ray Donovan) who is trying to get vital information out of him about a suspected Al Qaeda kingpin operating in Pakistan, whilst also suspecting him of masterminding an established or imagined terror network.

The Reluctant Fundamentalist expertly delves into the disillusion of the American dream from a Pakistani perspective. Like other Mira Nair films always with a flair for the dramatic most notably Vanity Fair and the award winning Monsoon Wedding has stunning  production values, compliments this visually rich film with a wonderfully evocative soundtrack.

The film’s script by Ami Boghani intelligently explores the common ties of humanity despite different cultures and the journeys of self discovery required to fully appreciate the fundamentals of a fulfilled existence. The Reluctant Fundamentalist is a an ultimately flawed but brilliantly told international thriller which is better appreciated if viewers have first read the novel. Recommended viewing.

 

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