Humans are hard-wired to belong and the challenge of our globalized 21st century will be to overcome this need ‘at any cost’. The Reluctant Fundamentalist challenges its viewers to heal rifts of misunderstanding and to ask questions about our prejudices that come to us all too easily. Mira Nair’s film does this with a care and understanding that is in itself very loving – the viewer can’t help but identify and empathize with the film’s characters. Nair has pulled off an unusual trifecta: an intimate love story within a spy thriller that poses a fundamental philosophical question about the deception of appearances and what is real. The seamless to and fro of the bigger questions and the film’s authentic portrayal of its characters is a credit to the writing, the direction and the performances from the international cast. Most notably, performances by Riz Ahmed, Liev Schreiber, Kate Hudson and Kiefer Sutherland are equally superb. But Riz Ahmed’s on screen transformations from an Ivy league Wall Street climber to the prodigal son returned home is deserving of special attention, as is Haluk Bilginer’s brief turn as the financially troubled Publisher who is instrumental in Changez’s (Riz Ahmed) journey of self-discovery.
With The Reluctant Fundamentalist Director/Producer Mira Nair (Salaam Bombay, Monsoon Wedding) has challenged some very deep pre-conceived notions about who we are. A film that has many layers and complex characters is very objective about one thing: labels of any type, particularly those arising out of fundamentalist attitudes wherever they emerge, deprive us of our humanity, wreak havoc in our personal lives and in the worst cases harden our hearts.
The Reluctant Fundamentalist is an ambitious film, to say the least, but one that Nair embraces with a passion that is as intimate as it is flawlessly and objectively analytical. The riveting script was adapted from Mohsid Hamid’s award-winning 2007 book by Ami Boghani, William Wheeler and Hamid. Nair’s characters struggle with their belief in themselves, their identity in a world where they are asked to unequivocally take sides. Nair’s camera never leaves the protagonist Changez, and while this is primarily his story, his journey we are following, his conflicts with Bobby (Liev Shreiber) a journalist come CIA operative, and Erica (Kate Hudson) his love interest, make the film tick – an intense two hours breezed by. Wrapping the intimacies of these characters deliberately and methodically in the context of 9/11 and the geo-political climate of the last decade, heightens the stakes of the film and sharpens Nair’s focus on how fundamentalism, whether practiced in Pakistan or on Wall Street, obscures our personhood and fosters injustice both personal and political.