The Reluctant Fundamentalist (R)
Being more of a thriller, The Reluctant Fundamentalist is a bit of a departure for director Mira Nair, but in keeping with her best work, it is really an intimate and involving study of its characters. That said, the genre trappings do their job in instantly gripping the audience as Pakistani professor Changez Khan (Riz Ahmed, last seen on American screens in the undervalued Trishna) recounts to a journalist (Liev Schreiber) how his past in the U.S. business world, a romance with a photographer (Kate Hudson), and the fallout from 9/11 shaped him into his current identity as a controversial political activist in his homeland and possible involvement with the terrorist kidnapping of an American professor. If some of the more blatant concessions to formula in this loose adaptation of Mohsin Hamid's novel don't always work (most notably the thread with Hudson and its ripped-from-Neil-LaBute turns), even such missteps do at least effectively support Nair's primary, most absorbing concern: how an accumulation of circumstances and experiences shape Changez into the man he becomes--or, perhaps more accurately, lead him to discovering his true, core values and self. That arc may not sound unusual in and of itself, but Nair's execution and Ahmed's revelatory lead performance are in their smart, layered treatment of complex issues; there is no simple black or white, right or wrong, with characters and motivations instead becoming increasingly, realistically more grey as perceptions of Changez, by others and himself, shift and change. Ahmed deftly handles the difficult job depicting the fine, ever-evolving nuances of Changez's self-proclaimed love of America; as with any true love, with the affection also comes the desire to see improvement, and one never doubts the genuine honesty of his spoken sentiments even if his chosen tactics could be considered questionable. Beyond the deeper observations and detailed character development, Nair also delivers in more visceral terms, generating a healthy amount of suspense with the central mystery, further amped by the charged verbal byplay between Ahmed and Schreiber, making the non-flashback events function well as not only a framing story. Similarly, the film as a whole not only functions well as a thriller and an exploration of post-9/11 paranoia and prejudice, but a thoughtful look at fickle, knee-jerk human psychology of judgment in the wake of tragedies.