By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — When an American college professor is kidnapped in Pakistan by an Islamic fundamentalist group who demand the release of prisoners as well as a ransom in exchange for their abductee’s freedom, an investigative American journalist sits down to interview a Pakistani colleague of the abductee.
But the interviewee may or may not be a terrorist and the interviewer may or may not be a CIA agent.
That’s the point of departure for The Reluctant Fundamentalist, a resonant contemporary thriller set in Lahore, Pakistan, in 2011 in which no one is precisely as presumed and the exact connection of the two principals to the kidnapping is revealed ever so gradually.
Director Mira Nair (The Namesake, Monsoon Wedding, Vanity Fair, Mississippi Masala) offers a snapshot of the post-9/11 universe in this adaptation of the bestselling 2007 novel by Mohsin Hamid in which she collaborated with screenwriters William Wheeler and Ami Boghani.
Riz Ahmed plays Changez, the rabble-rousing academician who left his native Lahore and became a financier in New York City, and then became alienated from his adopted homeland due to the way he was treated in the wake of the September 11th terrorist attacks because of his appearance.
Liev Schreiber is the investigating writer who is asked to listen to the full story of just how and why this Wall Street hotshot was transformed into a provocative professor in Pakistan, a spiritual and political journey in which he is searching for the Pakistani equivalent of the American Dream as he lectures on revolution.
A brunette Kate Hudson plays Changez’s love interest, a grieving artist; Kiefer Sutherland his capitalist-squared corporate boss and mentor; and Martin Donovan a CIA officer paying very close attention to the conversation between the two men.
Nair, interested in capturing the effects of the 9/11 tragedy, especially the manner in which it affected human-nature racism, uses the conversation as a framing device and brings us up to date in a series of flashbacks.
The cast responds to Nair’s steady direction, none more so than magnetic lead actor Ahmed, who has a strong screen presence and gives a smartly nuanced performance as a guy torn between two cultures who begins by declaring his love for America but may have subsequently been racially profiled and then radicalized.
The Reluctant Fundamentalist has severe limitations as a suspense thriller. But as a drama, it certainly raises thought-provoking and perhaps unanswerable questions, and is a worthwhile addition to our ongoing dialogue about such concerns as immigration, alienation, assimilation, and identity.
And, needless to say, recent real-world domestic-terrorism events have rendered the film even more timely -– eerily so -– than it already is.
So we’ll probe 3 stars out of 4. The Reluctant Fundamentalist is fundamentally sound and incrementally eye-opening.