The following is a review I wrote for Thread, a new publication on the Kapiti Coast in New Zealand. Pick up a copy if you’re in the area, or you can visit their blog version here. Hopefully this will be a somewhat regular thing, so support a really cool new thing!
It’s an admirable move by director Mira Nair to centre an American thriller around a Muslim leading man, if only she was willing to take as many risks with the story telling. The Reluctant Fundamentalist, a Hollywood-Qatar co-production with a terrific supporting cast alongside a little known leading man (Riz Ahmed), is a convoluted pastiche, trying to say so much that it ends up saying almost nothing.
The film plays out largely in flashback, after Pakistani Changez (Ahmed) and his family are implicated in the kidnap of a foreign colleague, and he is forced to prove his innocence by recounting the story of his life to a shady American journalist (Liev Schreiber) embedded in Lahore. The problem is that despite what the marketing would have you believe, The Reluctant Fundamentalist is only about one third of an effective thriller.
Understandably for a film dealing with complex American-Islamist geopolitics, The Reluctant Fundamentalist is heavy on 9/11 drama, attempting to offer a fresh look by showing the fallout from the attacks from the other side. It’s an idea with potential for an issue that is already well-trodden cinematic ground, and as such it’s a great shame that the film’s capitalism/terrorism parallels are glaringly obvious, and rather than truly confronting the audience with anything new and challenging, Nair gets bogged down in tired tropes and an unlikely and unnecessary romantic sub plot that sucks up the already long screen time.
One or two of these elements drawn out and explored with an increased focus might have made for a more satisfying experience, but Nair seems to have taken the approach to throw as much as she could at the screen hoping that most of it would stick, but instead there are mere glimpses of a good film buried under far too much clutter.