Film review: ‘The Reluctant Fundamentalist’

Riz Ahmed plays a Pakistani social climber in "The Reluctant Fundamentalist." Credit: Quantrell Colbert/Reluctant Films II, Inc.
Riz Ahmed plays a Pakistani social climber in “The Reluctant Fundamentalist.”
Credit: Quantrell Colbert/Reluctant Films II, Inc.

‘The Reluctant Fundamentalist’
Director: Mira Nair
Stars: Riz Ahmed, Kate Hudson
Rating: R
2 (out of 5) Globes

The Indian director Mira Nair (“Salaam Bombay!,” “Monsoon Wedding”) is a sensualist and a humanist. These qualities don’t make her ideal for a political thriller, even one as light on action and absurdly heavy on backstory as “The Reluctant Fundamentalist.” The material, from Mohsin Hamid’s slim novel, aims for topicality, but Nair keeps trying to pull it the other way. On the one hand, the results are maddeningly wishy-washy and unfocused; on the other, it’s always preferable when a simplistic, reductive tract gets a bit of personality to it.

Riz Ahmed, who previously essayed a wrongfully accused man in “The Road to Guantanamo” and a bumbling suicide bomber in the Chris Morris satire “Four Lions,” plays a man merely suspected of terrorism. Ahmed’s Changez is a Pakistani social climber in thrall to the American dream. Alas, his rise through Wall Street — and his fling with a trust fund “artist” (Kate Hudson) — clashes conveniently with the events of 9/11. Suddenly he’s being racially profiled, even while clad in Brooks Brothers. The feds’ shamefully sloppy work succeeds only in radicalizing Changez, who soon decamps for his homeland to talk smack about America.

The bulk of “Fundamentalist” is a massive flashback, with the now bearded and intense Changez relating his tale to a pothead journo (Liev Schreiber) in a cafe. Outside is a swelling riot as well as forces about to nab him over his alleged ties to a hostage situation — but Changez insists on plowing through his life history. “You need to know everything,” he asserts. You don’t, particularly given how ridiculously the wraparound thriller plot resolves itself.

Nair is not the filmmaker for anything remotely hot-button. She likes people too much. Every character, even an otherwise one-note caricature like Kiefer Sutherland’s robotic mega-boss, gets a moment fleshing them out. “Fundamentalist”’s trajectory is overly clean, but the characters are allowed complexities. Hudson makes an ideal unreliable girlfriend, selfish and pathetic at the right moments, while Ahmed’s Changez is a man both fiery and stubborn, as well as sometimes flat-out wrong. Characters are allowed to screw up in Nair’s films, which is refreshing, and while she has little idea how to spice up many of the office scenes — though few would — she sporadically shoehorns in gratuitously eye-pleasing montages and song performances. It’s mostly for naught, but a completely straight version of the same material, which would have historically been directed by Stanley Kramer, would be deadly.


News
Entertainment
Sports
Lifestyle
International

PHOTOS: Places to visit on Shakespeare's 450th birthday

William Shakespeare would celebrate his 450th birthday on Wednesday, and England's greatest playwright let his imagination roam as widely as his characters.

Local

Overnight Q trains to run local in Manhattan…

Manhattan straphangers will soon get some late-night relief on the Q train.

Local

Boy, 2, survives fall from unguarded third-story window…

A 2-year-boy miraculously survived a fall from an unguarded third-story window in Manhattan early Wednesday morning, police said.

National

Train selfie star who got kicked in the…

  A 22-year-old Canadian man who posted a video of himself getting kicked in the head by a train conductor is set to cash in…

Movies

Review: 'The Railway Man' is a literal-minded look…

In "The Railway Man," Colin Firth plays a WWII vet suffering from massive trauma acquired from his days as a beaten POW.

Books

'#GIRLBOSS': Nasty Gal CEO shares unlikely success story

Nasty Gal CEO Sophia Amoruso shares her rags to riches, dumpster to Porsche tale in her new book "#GIRLBOSS."

Movies

App Appeal: Unf— Your Habitat is a sweary…

Guilt trip yourself into some spring cleaning with the app "Unf— Your Habitat," which uses swearing and some rudeness to get you to get your s— together.

Movies

Review: 'The Other Woman' needs to be angrier,…

Cameron Diaz, Leslie Mann and Kate Upton play women who team up to destroy the man they're all unwittingly sleeping with in "The Other Woman."

NHL

Rangers reclaim home ice with Game 3 road…

The Rangers jumped out to a 2-0 lead early in the first period for the second straight game. This time, they held on.

NBA

Nets settle for 1-1 series tie with Game…

DeMar DeRozan, who was an All-Star this season, hit two huge jumpers back-to-back to give the Raptors an 89-85 lead over the Nets with 2:10 to play.

MLB

MLB Power Rankings: Brewers best in baseball, Dodgers,…

MLB Power Rankings: Brewers best in baseball, Dodgers, Cardinals, Yankees surge. The A's, Braves, Rangers, Giants and Rockies are also in the top 10.

NBA

Jason Kidd reacts to Mike Woodson being fired…

Jason Kidd played for Mike Woodson last year and Joe Johnson spent four seasons being the main focus on offense for Woodson in Atlanta.

Education

The benefits and challenges of intensive summer programs

Get the facts on taking an advanced college course.

Wellbeing

Why you need a facial

What can a facial do for your face that a washcloth and soap can’t?

Wellbeing

You can have your healthy snacks delivered

To take the guesswork out of procuring snacks good for you and your family, check out one of these companies.

Wellbeing

Jillian Michaels wants to ‘Maximize Your Life’

The fitness star returns for her second “Maximize Your Life Tour.”