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Friday, 10 May 2013 00:00

'The Reluctant Fundamentalist' is fundamentally flawed

'The Reluctant Fundamentalist' is fundamentally flawed
Written by Diane Carson
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Born in India, a graduate of Delhi University and Harvard, director Mira Nair seems the perfect candidate to convey an astute outsider's perspective on the American experience. And her new film "The Reluctant Fundamentalist" requires exactly that in the story of the young Pakistani man Changez, a Wall Street success before 9-11 who becomes bitterly alienated in its aftermath.

Unfortunately, no new insights are forthcoming as only stereotypical events and knee-jerk negative attitudes rock Changez's life in the U.S. Told in flashback, the film kicks off with excitement and promise: the kidnapping of an American professor, perhaps a CIA operative, in Lahore, Pakistan, in 2011. Searching for the prof, a journalist named Robert Lincoln, called Bobby, ends up in a shabby, local teahouse listening to Changez relate why and how he gravitated to such protests. The CIA monitors through an earpiece, and agents periodically interrupt, pressing Bobby to action, thereby trying unsuccessfully to inject suspense. Instead, the bifurcated events sag early and often.

Based on Mohsin Hamid's 2007 novel, "The Reluctant Fundamentalist" adds characters that more often than not amount to distractions in clunky, preachy incidents. As a result, moments that hit nerves or might lead to intelligent jolts get shunted aside. Running over two hours, the film had time to explore the complexity of the issues instead of repeating trite news items that reflect a tragic, unintelligent indulgence of fear and ignorance on all sides.

As Changez, Riz Ahmed is terrific, a believable, hard-working Princeton graduate increasingly disillusioned with capitalism's bottom-line approach, represented well by Kiefer Sutherland as Changez's boss. Liev Schreiber, as always, is a fabulous Bobby in a thankless role, but Kate Hudson is tedious as love-interest Erica.

Declan Quinn's cinematographer effectively contrasts the Lahore atmosphere with American corporate surroundings, cold and spare. The soundtrack and several on-screen scenes include selections from traditional Pakistani music and Urdu poems, additions that enhance the local ambience. Despite all this talent, "The Reluctant Fundamentalist" plods when it should soar. Primarily in English with a smattering of English subtitles as needed. At a Landmark Theatre.

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