November 27, 2014

The Reluctant Fundamentalist: Mira Nair makes us think

As we experience the summer movie season – and the big films that fill the theaters – the Reel Dad checks out the nutritional value of smaller films that offer compelling points of view. This week’s pick is The Reluctant Fundamentalist, currently available On Demand and scheduled to show at local cinemas in August.

How would you feel if you were accused of a crime you had nothing to do with, simply because you physically resemble those who have been charged by the court of public opinion? How could you try to explain who you are when others quickly judge what you may do? And how would such an experience possibly change your life?

Mira Nair’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist asks us to examine our reactions to people we may fear in a post 9/11 world. With care and sensitivity, the film poses compelling questions: How can a tragedy immediately reshape how people view others? How can, suddenly, a man find his path to success blocked by obstacles outside his control? And how would anyone react to being the subject of blind hatred?

Based on the best selling novel by Moshin Hamid, the film introduces Changez, a Muslim from Pakistan, a brilliant business student at Princeton who lands a big job after graduation at a consulting firm that buys, sells and advises struggling companies. He shows real talent in the business world, impresses his boss (Keifer Sutherland) and starts a relationship with an aspiring writer and photographer (Kate Hudson). Everything glistens in his bright world, with few limitations, until Changez’ life abruptly changes on Sept. 11, 2001. In a powerful sequence, the young man tries to pass through airport security soon after the Towers fall. What had once been a predictable routine suddenly becomes an embarrassing invasion of personal space.

What was once a land of opportunity for Changez becomes, instead, a place and a people that demand explanation. Suddenly he is subject to immediate judgment. No matter what he may believe, or how he may act, his presence becomes defined by what other people fear. Because he resembles how some visualize an enemy, especially when he chooses to grow a beard and change his clothing, he experiences how people can judge others by how they appear, not how they actually believe or act.

For most of the film, Nira demonstrates the visual and character command of her best work, such as Monsoon Wedding. But she loses control of the narrative in the film’s final act. Suddenly the clarity of her view, so carefully balanced earlier in the film, gets lost in a big-budget finale that feels inserted from a different movie. What begins as a careful look at a most sensitive topic becomes, in its final reel, a bit of a Hollywood shoot-em-up with many villains and heroes. Nair should have trusted her material to be strong enough to deliver its own thrills without the explosives.

Riz Ahmed brings Changez’ struggle to life without resorting to overplaying the man’s dilemma. Keifer Sutherland portrays a businessman with his standard intensity and Liev Schreiber is appropriately focused as a journalist seeking a story. Kate Hudson, despite being physically wrong for the role of Changez’ girlfriend, invests the character with an intense focus we don’t often see from her.

No matter where we live, or what we may believe, our views are influenced by events we experience. The Reluctant Fundamentalist reminds us that, regardless of our convictions, any of us can react to appearances. Sadly, we live in a world often defined by its visuals.

 

 Film Nutritional Value: The Reluctant Fundamentalist

Content: High. Director Mira Nair creatively reveals how world events can shape personal reactions and restrict how tolerant people are willing to be.

Entertainment: Medium. Even with its complicated content, the film makes its content easy to access through its visual style and rich characters despite a somewhat muddled final act.

Message: High. No matter how we may view the details of today’s world, Nair challenges us to look at others, and ourselves, with fresh eyes.

Relevance: High. Any opportunity to talk with older children about the realities of our world is meaningful.

Opportunity for Dialogue: High. While the film is not appropriate for the entire family, you and your older children will have a lot to consider as you absorb what Nira has to say about how our world changed on Sept. 11.

 

(The Reluctant Fundamentalist is rated R for language, some violence and brief sexuality. The film runs 130 minutes.)

4 Popcorn Buckets