Review: The Reluctant Fundamentalist

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Directed by: Mira Nair

Written by: William Wheeler

Starring: Riz Ahmed, Kate Hudson, Liev Schreiber, Kiefer Sutherland, Om Puri

Rating: [3.5/5]

Love and hate often sit on a knife edge between each other with a shift able to occur with material changes. Whether it be allegiance to a nation or a relationship with a significant other. The Reluctant Fundamentalist uses this through the perspective of someone whose life changes because of events completely out of their control but while this feature operates as a personal tale, it also allows for a larger discussion about how dueling ideologies might have more in common than one would think. 

Given the opportunity to study at Princeton University through a scholarship, Pakistani-born Changhez Khan (Riz Ahmed) makes quite a life for himself with a cushy corporate job and a girlfriend in the United States. He demonstrates his worth in a capitalist structure but it all changes following the attacks on the World Trade Center where his love of the United States begins to sour as the national sentiment around people who look like him changes dramatically. 

A distinct sadness exists in The Reluctant Fundamentalist in how things out of our control can drastically change the way our lives operate, which becomes even more prescient when you carry an identity outside of the norm. A horrifying reality when living in the United States judging by the history of how citizens treat perceived anyone perceived as outsiders. One day you can be viewed as the model minority and the next you can be an outcast and seen as an “other.” Just ask Japanese citizens during World War II and anyone who had any lineage to the Middle East following 9/11. This becomes the inciting incident of this feature that completely flips everything on its head, which makes you think what could have been for Changez but a rightful cynic could point out that what occurred was only an inevitably that could befall any minority at any time. 

This feature, as much as it shows the journey of Changez, looks at a larger picture he found himself in the middle between ideals meant to be polar opposites but share more similarities than they care to admit. This occurs with capitalism as a whole and Muslim fundamentalism. On the whole, the observation does not contain a plethora of complexities as Changez states both only care about how the system can benefit through the use of others and possess any modicum of control it can have over others. The same can be said for any religious group but it remains a prescient point regardless. Something certainly carrying truth but rings even more considering what Changez goes through in his life and the changes he must make in order to live the life that brings him fulfillment. 

With the blatant Islamaphobia on display in the feature, it serves its purpose in appropriately angering the audience to the injustice on display simply because of what Changez looks like and how his name is written. The acts carry a venom many minority members feel but one distinct of those who have any connection to the Middle East. This purpose works for the audience, but it shows just how much an individual can become disillusioned with a country they want to call home and how it rejects them. Something increasingly disheartening as the film continues on but very much plays into the title of the feature and how everything shifts. One way to turn someone against a country would be to follow what happened to individuals like Changez and others like him, which makes the latter part of this journey for him strident and effective seeing as he experienced both sides of the pendulum in the United States. He represented both “one of the good ones” and also a terrorist simply by being himself. 

Serving as one of his first major leading roles, Riz Ahmed showed straight away his talent level would be something to behold. From the bright-eyed and optimistic young man he displays at the beginning to the disillusioned and cynical one in the latter stages, Ahmed embodies it all and shines. With other actors in this film serving as some of its weak spots, Ahmed remains the heart and soul of this feature and does so well to represent the messages at the helm. It came as no surprise he would shine as he has and he will only continue to get better. 

Disconcerting to watch in moments, but The Reluctant Fundamentalist remains something vital to experience how love and anger for their place of residence can switch on a dime. Most certainly a heavy dime but one this film mulls over through stark conversation and a righteous sense of anger running through each conversation. Another strong film by Mira Nair with plenty to say and doing it well.

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