Movie Review – The Reluctant Fundamentalist

That’s right – this baby is SPOILER-FREE!



IMDB Rating: 6.7 out of 10 (5,071 votes)

Director: Mira Nair

The poster for The Reluctant Fundamentalist.

The poster for The Reluctant Fundamentalist.

If you look up “define slow film” on Google, you will get a few examples. Had it been seen by more people and been given wider release, one of those films would be ‘The Reluctant Fundamentalist’. Mira Nair (Salaam Bombay!, Amelia) has created here a film which holds it’s own head up, moving itself away from the most prevalent patriotic films, and really challenges the viewer to think hard about who is behind the face. Who are these so called “terrorists”? What do they want? Is it fair to assume all people who come from the Middle East hate America? Did they even want war in the first place? All of these questions, and many more, are raised by Nair’s thought-provoking and extremely intelligent post-9/11 drama.

We focus in on Changez (Riz Ahmed) – the main character in the film, and the man who’s perspective we’re seeing things from. We follow Changez as he works his way in and out of a complex relationship with Erica (Kate Hudson), as he gets a job with an evaluation firm known as Underwood Samson, as he is taken under the wing of his boss and mentor Jim Cross (Kiefer Sutherland), and as he unravels his own thoughts about the true United States of America.

The film starts off very slowly, with a scene showing the abduction of a professor at Lahore University by unknown assailants (this plays a very key role in the film all the way up until the very end). The first scene is probably in the vicinity of 10 or so minutes long, meaning it requires a great deal of patience and understanding to get through. But once you do get through it, the film expands like a flourishing flower. That’s one of the things I really loved about the film: it was such a daring, mysterious and gripping opening sequence, and it pulled so many different story elements into the spotlight, but by the end of the film it tied together every loose strand. Mira Nair and screenwriters William Wheeler & Rutvik Oza must be praised for this.

I had a Pakistani once.

I had a Pakistani once.

The funny thing is, though, is that once you get past the opening scene, and the film settles itself into a steady groove, you realise it’s a slow film anyway. Really, the opening scene isn’t much slower than the rest of the film. The film is written with in depth discussions, set up with a “story being told in flashbacks from a current-day interview” kind of style, and featuring very personal scenes which let us in to the mind of Riz and the people around him. This all takes time (2 hours and 10 minutes to be exact), but filmmaking is sometimes a careful and deliberate art, requiring attention to detail, and ‘The Reluctant Fundamentalist’ is just one of those movies.

Mira Nair manages to squeeze some very convincing performances out of her actors, in particular Riz Ahmed and Kate Hudson, who are superb in their [very key] roles. Not only do they seem to have great chemistry on screen, but in their more personal, alone moments, they shine as bright as any other scene in the film. Ahmed has a lot to do here; at times he has to be upbeat and young, at other times he has to be vulnerable, at other times he has to be stern, and at other times he has to be the leader and the one in control. This is a massive workload for an actor known mostly for his performance in the 2010 comedy ‘Four Lions’ (which I hear is quite good), but Ahmed’s performance is much more mature and sophisticated than his age and experience would suggest.

The end sequence (a very long scene indeed) is just what the rest of the film deserved; it is smart, so smart in fact it verges on one of the best written climaxes all year; it is open ended, leaving room for the viewer to think about what Mira Nair was trying to get at; it is even a tad controversial; but it is, to my absolute pleasure, an ending that brings back elements from the very first few scenes of the film, which is something I just love when it’s done right. With ‘The Reluctant Fundamentalist’, Nair challenges us to create our own thoughts, emotions, and feelings about September 11 2001, and the days/weeks/months/years following it. How have we changed as people? Maybe what Nair was trying to say with this film was that the people of America were not the only victims of 9/11 – the flags, whom the forces responsible for 9/11 hide behind, are victims too.

MY RATING: 8.5 out of 10.

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2 responses to “Movie Review – The Reluctant Fundamentalist

  1. I enjoyed this film a lot but the book it’s based on is truly phenomenal. You should give it a read if you haven’t already. It’s written in monologue style from the perspective of Changez.

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