Complex thriller in the shadow of terror

Nanjing Night Net

Pleasant surprise … Kate Hudson and Riz Ahmed. Dialogue is occasionally brilliant in The Reluctant Fundamentalist.

THE RELUCTANT FUNDAMENTALIST

★★★★

(M) Palace Electric

It’s nice to be pleasantly surprised by a movie, as I was by Mira Nair’s new film. Nair began her career winning the Camera D’Or at Cannes for Salaam Bombay! and her films since have vacillated between the terrific – Mississippi Masala, Amelia – and the certainly-high-profile-if-not-actually-amazing, such as her take on Vanity Fair or Monsoon Wedding, which everybody in the world except me adored.

She dedicates this film to her father who died during the production. Her dad grew up in Lahore, Pakistan, and this is the hometown of the film’s protagonist Changez (Riz Ahmed). Changez hails from a family of the Pakistani upper class in decline, driven by his family’s fading fortunes to excel on scholarship at Princeton, and win himself a graduate spot on Wall Street as a business analyst under the mentorship of Jim Cross (Kiefer Sutherland). Changez is a man going places – until the attack on the World Trade Centre.

As the film opens it is a decade later and Changez is now a lecturer at Pakistani University, being interviewed by an American journalist (Liev Schreiber) with a hidden agenda, and to whom he explains the radical change America’s increased xenophobia and treatment of its foreign guests had on his life thereafter.

Screenwriter William Wheeler has adapted Mohsin Omid’s Booker Prize-nominated novel. The lady at the pay-parking machine after my screening tells me the film was told completely differently, but still very well. Ah, to have the time to actually read a book!

The dialogue is occasionally brilliant, occasionally annoying exposition, but there is a lot of plot to get through, and Nair employs some interesting visual devices to help sweep us through the morass of characters and history as she tackles big themes in a complex layer of issues.

The film belongs to British actor Riz Ahmed, who some will remember from the comedy Four Lions. His handsome, expressive face draws you to his character, though Nair keeps you guessing his motivations to the end.

The rest of the cast is a bit of a who’s-who from three continents, with Kate Hudson as Changez’s conflicted girlfriend, Erica, Nelsan Ellis (LaFayette from True Blood), Pakistani pop star Meesha Shafi as Changez’s sister Bina, and noted Indian actors Om Puri and Shabana Azmi.

Nair’s camera is worked by Declan Quinn who made Nair’s Monsoon Wedding look so lush. He does equally good work here, helped by some stunning locations. Michael Andrews’ score is enhanced by vocal performances from the likes of Peter Gabriel and Pakistani heart-throb Atif Aslam.

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