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Review: The Reluctant Fundamentalist

by Frances Morton, from Reviews, May 23 2013,

Riz Ahmed, Kiefer Sutherland and Kate Hudson star in this paranoid thriller following a Pakistani man who, fresh from Princeton University and ready to chase glory on Wall Street, is caught in a cultural divide after New York’s Twin Towers are attacked.

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Is it ever good to see a film when you already know the book? Mohsin Hamid’s bestseller is an alluring, ambiguous novel set in New York and Lahore straddling the world-changing 9/11 events. This film version morphs its uncertainties into big screen clichés.

The point-of-view of the book cleverly deposes the US from its default moral guardian position to one of self-serving overseer, but the film sadly reinstates it to an omnipotent role. Familiar symbols of the war on terror are shoehorned into the movie, such as the overzealous detainment of a bearded Muslim and a bizarre action sequence in the rushed denouement, which feel like they are there to pander to American audiences. The worst offence is Kate Hudson unconvincingly playing serious in a brown wig.

What saves the film is the knockout turn by lead Riz Ahmed (Four Lions) who is slight and charismatic, with an almost regal demeanour to match his character Changez’s staggering intellect. The unravelling of Changez’s American dream in the context of a world in turmoil is taut and compelling, and succeeds in bringing the essence of the book to the screen. His insight into life in Pakistan compared to the cut and thrust of corporate New York, paired with the rich cinematography of the Lahore scenes make the film worth watching. Just let the sensationalised facepalm ending wash over and turn to the book for a more fulfilling reading of the complexities of this globalised yet fragmented world.