The Reluctant Fundamentalist

Unlike the vast majority of films concerned with terrorism, The Reluctant Fundamentalist boldly asks us to adopt a Muslim protagonist who may or may not be an actual terrorist. Far from the white CIA officers we’re usually saddled with, our protagonist here is Pakistani lecturer Changez (Riz Ahmed), a man whose views on America are changed irrevocably during the xenophobic aftermath of 9/11. Keeping us guessing right until the end, the ambiguity surrounding Changez is what drives the film. Has he turned? Or are his accusers mistaken? On one hand, he seems far too decent and intelligent to be brain-washed into such madness. But on the other, there’s an air of suspicion around him in the present-day scenes (most of the story is told via flashback), while the film’s title does appear to give the game away. All that being said, it’s hard to avoid the fact that Mira Nair’s adaptation of Mohsin Hamid’s novel is ultimately rather uneven. Though some scenes prove powerful and provocative (see Changez watching the collapse of the Twin Towers on television), others feel relatively heavy-handed and unconvincing (such as Kate Hudson’s hipster art exhibition). Thank God (or Allah), then, for Riz Ahmed. Easily the best thing about Nair’s film, Ahmed is utterly compelling even when the material isn’t, somehow managing to make us feel sympathy for a character who might yet be revealed as a terrorist. Of course, the reactionary treatment Changez encounters is designed to help us side with him (you’ve grown a beard? You must be a suicide bomber!), but it’s the young British actor who sells it. Bravo.