Review - The Reluctant Fundamentalist at Luna

 

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In the post 9-11 world that we live in, nothing is quite the same for those of us in Western civilisation. But we tend to forget that nothing is the same for the rest of the world either.

Mira Nair's The Reluctant Fundamentalist, now showing at Luna Leederville and Luna SX in Fremantle, takes a look at the aftermath of 9-11 from the point of view of Changez, a poor Pakistani Muslim who has come to the USA to pursue the American Dream.

Whereas this film could have simply been another formulaic East is Good vs West is Bad movie, Mira Nair has managed to make her vision of Mohsin Hamid's novel much more than a B grade thriller.

  • We have two main leads - Changez (Riz Ahmed) and Bobby Lincoln (Liev Schreiber), the reporter interviewing Changez, but neither are black and white characters, and we discover that both men are much more complex than we are initially shown. We are kept guessing throughout the movie as to each of their motivations and pasts. Is Changez responsible for the kidnapping of a fellow academic or is he an innocent victim of circumstance? Is Bobby just a journalist who has lost his idealistic zeal or is he something more? We continue to learn about each character as the movie progresses, but nothing is clear until the final minutes.

  • There is your compulsory love affair (with Kate Hudson doing a fine job of portraying an emotionally scarred artist struggling with her own issues), but it isn't just your standard East meets West love story.

  • We have the typical post 9-11 singling out of Changez due to his appearance, but we also see that he is considered fortunate by those other immigrants who are worse off than he is.

  • There are the usual workplace whispers and mistrust, but we also have a co-worker who stands by Changez, and a boss (Kiefer Sutherland in a wonderful role as Jim Cross) who still promotes Changez because he is able to make money for the firm, which is Jim's only concern.

  • We have the standard good guys and bad guys, but with every change of scene the story flips them around, and our sympathies shift as we see Changez's and Bobby’s different perspectives regarding the same events.

 

All the normal story elements are there, but with little tweaks that make for a much more compelling movie than your average post 9-11 film. Mira Nair manages to show both sides of the issue without favouring one over the other. Even as a Westerner, I'm able to watch and appreciate that both East and West have points in their favour, and mistakes to answer for.

All in all, The Reluctant Fundamentalist is a movie that I would recommend to anybody with an open mind, with great cinematography (especially in the Eastern scenes) and strong performances from the cast. I think it might have benefited from some tighter editing, since it felt just a little on the long side, but that's just a minor quibble of mine. Finally, what a terrific soundtrack - the music from the opening scene is incredibly good - very foreign (to me) but totally entrancing.

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