The Reluctant Fundamentalist Reviews
It's hard to bring uniqueness to this frequently thoroughly explored subject matter at this point, and I must admit that there are refreshing touches, but not enough to fight a been-there-done-that feel, partly because this film takes plenty of time for you to develop that feeling. Now, I've been joking and joking about how slow this film might be, but it does not feel nearly as draggy as I was fearing it would, due to a consistent degree of fair entertainment value, and yet, there is still some dragging on paper, as the 130-minute runtime is achieved partly through excess material that still isn't fleshed out enough for the layers to converge as organically as they should. Most all major plot layers here are worthy, but they bloat the narrative something fierce, until focal consistency is lost in a fashion that reflects a sense of overambition, which in turn reflects natural shortcomings. This is a meaty story, sure, with limited punch, yet this still could have been a relatively strong drama if material wasn't further watered down by familiarity, pacing problems and, yes, even subtlety issues. As I said earlier, there's no ignoring ambition, as it is reflected too much, not just within the narrative bloating that I mentioned earlier, but through subtlety issues in dramatic storytelling, as director Mira Nair's overtly passionate attention to important subject matter, while endearing and often genuinely effective, is generally with a limited genuineness that makes other challenges to your investment all the harder to disregard. There are plenty of compelling elements throughout this dramatic pseudo-thriller, and they bring the final product to the brink of rewarding, but there's not enough weight to the strengths to overpower the weight of the shortcomings, of which there are enough to prevent the final product from being as memorable as it could have been, much less as effective as it wants to be. Nevertheless, in spite of the questionability, this effort engages adequately, falling short of rewarding, but persevering as decent, and even aesthetically appealing.
Among the more unevenly played with elements in this somewhat narratively overblown drama is "Donnie Darko" soundtrack composer Michael Andrews' score, which is still very much worth waiting for, as conventional scoring elements go outweighed by a subtle, if not refreshingly stylish intensity that helps in capturing a sense of grit almost as consistently as the film's visual style. Declan Quinn's cinematography is just as, if not more conventional than Andrews' score, with hardly any plays on lighting and coloring dynamicity, but also like Quinn's score, the photographic value of this subtly stylish drama engages, keeping a consistent look that is heavy, with an attractive ruggedness that further compliments the selling of this subject matter. I can't really say that this film is all that stylistically special, but I suppose Rotten Tomatoes' consensus is right in saying that this film is "technically proficient", for if you can get past the shaky camera and other questionable, or at least limited technical touches, there's a stylistic sharpness to sustain engagement value, and therefore give you an opportunity to soak in an appreciation for this story. Again, this story is a little too familiar for its own good, and its interpretation gets to be too heavy-handed for its own good, but this is still a pretty intriguing look at the prejudice on and development of an Islamic man in a country that was devastated by his people, carrying some sharp twists and turns to its cerebral thrills, backed by important thematic depths that are themselves backed by a compelling dramatic bite, sold by heartfelt direction that sustains enough momentum to pacing to keep dullness at bay and grace effective moments with kick. Mira Nair's direction is flawed at times, but with all of my joking about slowness, it never loses entertainment value, even if the deeply compelling moments are few and far between, making sure that engagement never abates, and not without the help of some onscreen inspiration. Acting is, as Rotten Tomatoes' consensus put it, "solid", with most everyone convincing thoroughly, especially Kate Hudson, - whose sense of vulnerability captures the depths of a free-spirited, but flawed woman who is trying to bury past mistakes as chances for a new life with a new lover develops - as well as leading man Riz Ahmed, whose humbling charisma, combined with subtly powerful dramatic layers sell the depths of an intellectual, ambitious and all around honorable man whose life and principles, just as they're beginning to take full form, go challenged by the suffering of and disdain from peers in a time of crisis that hits him about as hard as it hits many of the peers in question. I kind of wish that there was more consistency to material for Ahmed to deliver on, but at the end of the day, I feel that Ahmed's lead performance is a strong one, and while that's not enough to carry dramatic effectiveness to a particularly rewarding point, the onscreen talent is a particularly bright reflection of the inspiration that gets this conceptually important drama to the brink of rewarding, even if it can't quite make that leap out of underwhelmingness.
In conclusion, unevenly draggy structuring to an overblown narrative and some heavy-handedness reflect limitations to conventional subject matter enough to prevent the final product from achieving a very rewarding status, to which it is brought close to on the backs of strong score work and cinematography, reasonably engaging inspiration to the directorial telling of an intriguing story, and strong performances, - particularly from Kate Hudson and relatively outstanding leading man Riz Ahmed - leaving Mira Nair's "The Reluctant Fundamentalist" to stand as a passably compelling, if improvable, intense meditation upon the impact recent Islamic conflicts have had on ostensibly good people of a certain type.
2.75/5 - Decent
Mira Nair has made some compelling cinema in her life--and hopefully there is much more to come. I have to give her props here for crafting a compelling film that is focused on a subject that I have (had?) no interest in.
The format of interweaving "current" events with flashbacks rarely works, but Nair does a nice tiptoe balancing act to shuttle between the two distinct sections of the film in a way that isn't obnoxious or obtrusive.
The characters are compelling, especially with the stand-out performance from Riz Ahmed.
This is the story of a Pakistani man who comes to America for an ivy league education just prior to the 9/11 disaster. After graduating Princeton, the student, Changez, lands a dream job on Wall Street. Changez is not embarrassed by his roots, but he is happy to call America his home. Changez's feelings begin to change when he experiences extreme racism and racial targeting after the 9/11 attacks, When he finds himself feeling exploited by his own girlfriend, he realizes that he harbors a longing for home.
We join Changez, an influential professor at a Pakistani university, as he is being questioned by an American journalist. The journalist wants to know if Changez is using his influence to support terrorism. As Changez tells his story, the audience tries to decide if Changez has been soured so much by American inhospitality that he has been driven to extremism.
These are, indeed, tough issues. I can imagine some people would have been made uncomfortable during this film. While there is some conclusion offered, the movie doesn't attempt to tidy the whole messy business, and I respect that.
Riz Ahmed was absolutely brilliant as Changez. Truly captivating and excessively talented. He chose his script wisely.