The Reluctant Fundamentalist
Adaptation of Mohsen Hamid’s book starring Riz Ahmed and Kate Hudson
A globetrotting adaptation of Mohsen Hamid’s allegorical first-person novella, director Mira Nair’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist is a thriller in which the character names are freighted with symbolic baggage.
Britain’s Riz Ahmed is impressive as the Pakistan-born Ivy League graduate Changez, who enjoys a glittering start to his career at a Wall Street financial valuation firm and whose business mantra is ‘respect the fundamentals’. He soon falls in love with his boss’ niece and experimental artist Erica (Kate Hudson), still mourning the death of her previous lover Chris. (A reference to the man who discovered America?) Following the terrorist attacks on New York in September 2001, Changez finds himself increasingly ostracized in the country he believed he loved, whilst Erica herself becomes emotionally ever more volatile.
Nair has retained the source's material framing device, whilst adding a superfluous 'ticking-clock' dimension: a bearded Changez, now a lecturer with radical sympathies at a Lahore university, tells his life story in one of the city’s tea-shops to what appears to be a Western journalist (Liev Schreiber), who’s seeking information about a recently-kidnapped American academic.
There are powerful individual scenes here, not least Changez’s ambivalent reaction to watching the collapse of the Twin Towers on TV in a Manila hotel room, and a lunch with a melancholic Turkish publisher in Istanbul, where his host draws an analogy between Changez’s work in global finance with the janissaries of the Ottoman empire, the Christian children who were trained by Muslims to fight against their own civilization. The visual and musical contrasts between soulless corporate America and a vibrant South Asian metropolis are over-emphatic however, and we’re left with a predictably soft ‘liberal’ film, which bemoans the fundamentalists (religious, political, financial) of both East and West. In her process of cinematic adaptation, Nair has removed much of the source novel’s ambiguity.
Limited release Fri 10 May.