The Reluctant Fundamentalist Review

One of the fundamental principles of being a professional film reviewer is that you show up on time for whatever you’re seeing.

But whoever I said I was professional?

The Reluctant Fundamentalist begins with a couple of men having a nice little chat with each other in some Pakistan university coffee bar.

At least it did for me, as that’s when I managed to get to this a.m. screening of the film during this year’s London Film Festival.

Judging by what follows, I’m pretty sure I didn’t miss much of importance.

The two men are Bobby and Changez; Bobby is an american journalist who’s been living in Pakistan for the past seven years and is on the trail of another expat and dean of the university who’s been kidnapped on suspicion of being a CIA agent.

And Changez is the american educated lecturer who’s suspected of being the brains behind said kidnapping.

Changez was a bright student living the Pakistan dream, which means leaving your home country in search of a western education and western riches.

Having studied at Harvard, Changez manages to impress during a job interview for some doubtless morally corrupt financial institute that helps companies make more money by streamlining their work processes.

In real world speak, this means sacking a load of proles from their 21st century slavery to cut costs.

Still, seeing as Changez and his company of infidels are making a shedload of money for their part in all this, who really cares about the consequences of their actions?

Such is our modern life.

Of course, this part of the story is set in the carefree nineties; before the war on terror and global economic meltdown pricked everyone’s lack of conscience.

Post 9/11, everything changes for, ah, Changez; he’s treated like a terrorist in his adopted country at every turn, routinely victimised because of the colour of his skin and is sorely treated by customs officials when re-entering the country.

Only then does Changez begin to question the value of what he’s doing with his life.

And, as is the case with anyone who works in finance, he realises there is no value in the work that he does.

Which, when you think about it, is kind of funny.

So Changez goes home in search of the true Pakistan dream, one that doesn’t involve whoring yourself off to the richest american company you can find; but has his capitalist past twisted his values so much that Changez is willing to go to war for what he now believes?

The Reluctant Fundamentalist is a film that should have been made years ago, as people finally start to wake up to the latent american propaganda that stemmed from those 9/11 attacks all those moons ago and begin to think critically about what’s happened since.

Director Mira Nair’s film ticks a lot of cinematic boxes, from the all-star cast, tacked on love interest for the main character and that modern trend of dressing heroes and villains up in fifty shades of grey instead of the traditional contrasts of black and white.

But there’s a boring predictability to The Reluctant Fundamentalist, and that makes it difficult to care one jot about who the real terrorists are and who’s fighting for freedom.

And the idea that greed is bad, from a film sporting a hollywood cast of millionaires and an industry which continues to churn out brainless sequels, prequels and any Michael Bay film you’ve ever seen in the name of the bottom line, is compromised at best.

Still, it’s all pretty well put together with the multi-talented Riz Ahmed as Changez, Liev Schreiber playing the most physically imposing journalist known to man Bobby and Kiefer Sutherland suitably suity and shouty as Changez’s business mentor Jim.

Kate Hudson adds some babe factor too, but the preposterously faux nature of her relationship with Changez is completely unbelievable when set against most of the other well written elements of The Reluctant Fundamentalist.

It’s not bad by any means, it just should have been made better; kind of like my internal appreciation for being somewhere on time.

Jonathan Campbell

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November 2012
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