The Reluctant Fundamentalist

Art & Culture


I do love films that are About Something and this new film from Mira Nair has enough potent subject matter to fuel a dozen films. It is also complex, interesting and emotionally engaging. Lucky us.
Changez Khan (Riz Ahmed) is a young Pakistani who goes to Princeton, makes a stron academic impression, and is hired by Keifer Sutherland, who is highly placed with Underwood Samson, a very successful company who are – at core – asset strippers – and very well paid for doing so. Changez (rhymes with Ganges) is not only a brilliant financial analyst but also a ruthless and riven young man, whose relationship with Sutherland is not unlike that of Charlie Sheen and Michael Douglas in Wall Street.Changez also begins a relationship with Erica (Kate Hudson) an artists who is the niece of the owner of the company. Life seems to have given him everything he wants.
But we know that changes are going to take place; firstly because his life in America is being described by an older Changez in Lahore, where he is a lecturer, to an American journalist who might be more than that, in the wake of the kidnap of another American who is Changez’s boss; and secondly, because the good times in America predate the 9/11 disaster which took place exactly 11 years to the day before I saw the film.
So of course, after the planes hit the Twin Towers, his Pakistani origin becomes problematic, and his version of the American Dream begins to unravel, leading him to reassess all his priorities and values, without turning against the country that gave him so much, even though it appears to have turned against him.
The first thing to say about this film is how good Riz Ahmed is. I first saw him in Four Lions, in a comic role, but he carries this film almost single handed, and does so brilliantly. Director Mira Nair, on the other hand, has established her genius for many years, starting with Salaam Bombay and continuing through Monsoon Wedding. But this might be her toughest and most complex film yet. We are dealing with the immorality of the financial services industry, in which Mitt Romney’s Bain company was a significant player; the relationship between the USA and Pakistan; Pakistan’s relationship within its own boundaries; and a love affair that crosses racial and cultural boundaries.
I don’t imagine that it’s a film that will be well received by fundamentalists of any stripe, since it pursues an agenda of humanism, and tolerance, and is very critical of US policy post 9/11. It’s also exciting, shocking, funny, sweet, moving and thoroughly engaging. If you get the impression that I like it, you’re not wrong.


Phil Raby

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