London Film Festival 2012: The Reluctant Fundamentalist Review

Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

Islamic disarray in the Western world will be a ripe theme in fiction for decades to come in light of 9/11, yet Mira Nair’s bloated, meandering take on Mohsin Hamid’s 2007 novel of the same name can’t seem to tease viewer engagement out of what is without question a worthy and timely story.

Now a militant Muslim lecturer back in Lahore, Changez (Riz Ahmed) recounts his story so far to a sceptical American journalist (Liev Schreiber), detailing his promising career as a young Wall Street up-start, during which he falls for a free-spirited artist (Kate Hudson), before the post-9/11 spectre ruins the party, and he leaves for Pakistan amid a miasmal fog of American xenophobia.

It isn’t long into The Reluctant Fundamentalist that Nair drops the ball, her heavy-handed direction – admittedly working from a problematic script – preventing the film from functioning as a neatly subdued tale of a man’s dilemma over which obligations are going to define his life. Nair sledgehammers home this narrative crux with aggressive – but not passionate – enthusiasm, as though we wouldn’t quite “get” it otherwise.

Riz Ahmed, however, is a star in the making, and somewhat rises above the murky material, with his persuasive screen presence, playing someone who will no doubt remind many of his similarly conflicted character in Chris Morris’ satire Four Lions. However, Changez feels less like a well-wrought character in his own right, and more a mouthpiece to spark audience debate.

Similarly, supporting players do their best to compensate for the narrative misgivings; Schreiber is as reliable as ever, and playing financier Jim Cross, Kiefer Sutherland gets to stretch himself a bit. Kate Hudson on the other hand feels miscast as the love interest, blandly forgettable in a way that only makes the slack drama decay even faster in our minds.

Mira Nair again reminds us of her frustrating inconsistency as a filmmaker, enlisting a fine cast and strong technicals – Declan Quinn’s sumptuous cinematography is particularly enchanting – but failing to cover the, ahem, fundamentals first.

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