3 stars
From a dank restaurant in Pakistan, Changez (Riz Ahmed) relates a tale to journalist Bobby Lincoln (Liev Schreiber). The man has connections to a local (ashram) which may, or may not, be involved in the kidnapping and murder of a prominent American. Lincoln is there for the truth, Changez is not easily seduced by the foreigner's charm nor fooled by his thin cover. Yet nothing is what it first seems, the teacher was once a Wall St player – a soldier in the American economic army – whose company restructuring skills (i.e, saving millions by tossing large volumes of foreign workers on the slag heap) was highly valued.

Mira Nair's (Monsoon Wedding) drama has all the hallmarks of a Redford-styled examination of political activism in a radical world. Changez's born-again fundamentalism seems rooted in capital excess, a notion which gives the film its peculiar grit. When 9/11 sorely challenged his place in the world, before you could write 'fear and violence', he's back in a dank Pakistani restaurant with a new world view, one that Lincoln, a CIA operative, is desperate to understand. And as his handlers attempt to drop a noose around the young man's potentially guilty neck, everyone begins a morality dance that provokes your understanding of fundamentalism, capitalism and how simply defined the moral compass can be. As beliefs are sorted into ledger columns, people are similarly reduced: black or white, in or out.

Despite terrific production and a superior cast which includes Kiefer Sutherland and Martin Donovan as representatives of Western order, it appears political thrillers are not Nair's strongest suit. Based on Mohsin Hamid novel, The Reluctant Fundamentalist has all the trappings of a rousing wake-up call told as parallel versions of the same story: in lining up Western economic imperialism with Islamic fundamentalism Changez is represented as either a noble teacher or jihadist recruiter. The CIA is, naturally, confident of the latter and their enthusiasm to balance the books is intended to give the film its pace and drive.

Yet there's an uncomfortable earnestness about the way these lines reveal such that the film takes on a clunky, uncertain tone; arguments fail to rise as organically as they should, the 'time bomb' of student unrest at the school is surprisingly leaden. Somewhere in The Reluctant Fundamentalist is a striking film wrestling to tell its story, a timely one as forces on either side of the divide globally, and more particularly in Pakistan, sort people into binary columns. Despite the finest intentions of all involved, disappointingly, this is not that film.


Previewed at Hoyts Studio 12 Theatrette, Sydney, on Thursday 2 May 2013

3 stars
Mira Nair’s (Monsoon Wedding / New York I Love You) The Reluctant Fundamentalist, based on the short-listed Booker Prize novel of the same name by Mohsin Hamid, opened the Venice Film Festival last year. Set in Pakistan and the USA, it is a study of the dangers of both Western and Islamic fundamentalism, wherein paranoia reigns and no side trusts the other.

Changez (Riz Ahmed – Four Lions / The Road To Guantanamo), a young Pakistani man moves to the USA to attend Princeton and is offered a job with a prestigious valuation firm in NYC. He embraces his success in the adopted country he has always loved. That is until the aftermath of 9/11, when he becomes suspect because of his ‘Middle Eastern appearance’ and is subjected to random searches and general suspicion, effectively bringing an end to his American Dream. His relationship with his boss Jim Cross (Keifer Sutherland – Melancholia / A Few Good Men) disintegrates, as does his relationship with his girlfriend Erica (Kate Hudson – Almost Famous / Nine), a photographer who comes with her own personal baggage. Changez returns to Lahore where he takes a job as a professor at a local university, and where circumstances bring him into contact with an American journalist, Bobby Lincoln (Liev Schreiber – X-Men Origins: Wolverine / Salt). Both men suspect the other of being more than they appear to be, a fact that becomes evident when Bobby interviews Changez in the hope of finding out the whereabouts of a recently kidnapped USA citizen. As in all good thrillers, the story unfolds in a series of twists and turns and you are left guessing the outcome as more information is revealed.

This is a tense drama that throws up many questions about the rights of people who became suspected terrorists overnight once a brutal act of sabotage took place on US soil. It also shows how the negative treatment of immigrants can turn people towards extremist views, thus questioning fundamentalism from both sides and showing how no-one benefits from such zealous points of view. It also demonstrates how the world has changed forever and how difficult it will be to ever overcome the current way of thinking. The performances are all excellent, particularly Ahmed’s, and the film is supported by a stunning soundtrack. Nair has succeeded in bringing this highly controversial subject to the screen without prejudice. It is a must-see for anyone interested in the state of the world and the grim future that awaits us all when future generations set out to seek revenge for the mistakes made by their predecessors.


Reviewed at Hayden Orpheum Picture Palace, Cremorne, Sydney, on 26 May 2013


Riz Ahmed
Liev Schrieber
Kiefer Sutherland
Kate Hudson

Mira Nair

Ami Boghani

USA / UK / Qatar


130 minutes

May 23, 2013
The Reluctant Fundamentalist (2012) on IMDb
Stacks Image 56