By David Hudson
The fall film festival season is officially off and running with this evening’s presentation of The Reluctant Fundamentalist. “The awful inevitability of Kipling’s non-meeting of east and west is the subject of this movie by Mira Nair, which begins the 2012 Venice film festival, adapted from the 2007 novel by Mohsen Hamid,” writes the Guardian‘s Peter Bradshaw. “It’s a sweeping and heartfelt tale of divided loyalties and reversion to type, in a world where the complacent ideas of globalized capitalism were shattered by 9/11. This is bold and muscular storytelling with a plausible performance from Riz Ahmed in the lead role—though there is something flabby and evasive in the inevitable equivalence it winds up proposing between Islamic fundamentalism and aggressive American capitalism.”
But In Contention‘s Guy Lodge has more than a few problems with this story of “a young, whip-smart Pakistani immigrant whose vertiginous ascent up the Wall Street ladder begins to stall when the grim events of September 2001 raise external barriers of xenophobic American paranoia, not to mention internal concerns of cultural betrayal. It’s material that seems tailor-made for the touch of Mira Nair, the maddeningly inconsistent Indian-American director, many of whose best films to date have focused on brittle clashes between Eastern and Western social and political mores, sometimes within a single character. Modest but searching works like Mississippi Masala, Monsoon Wedding and The Namesake negotiated this tricky line of conflict with warmth, good humor and an emphasis on personal and familial idiosyncrasies over broad We Are The World sentiment. Dismayingly, that lightness of touch is scarcely in evidence on her latest, surrendered to the potted, broad-stroke plotting and cloying exoticism that, respectively, hampered Amelia and Vanity Fair, her disastrous forays away from contemporary, ethnicity-oriented storytelling.”
“While in New York, [Changez] meets sophisticated photographer Erica, played by a red-haired Kate Hudson, who turns out to be the boss’s niece,” notes Deborah Young in the Hollywood Reporter. “This unnecessary coincidence is a warning light that their relationship will hit all the most easily foreseeable notes, including her inability to forget a dead boyfriend and his wanting to give his parents grandchildren. The absence of chemistry between the two may underline their cultural diversity, but certainly doesn’t enliven the scenes they share. More intriguing is the strange bond that links the young analyst to his boss and mentor Jim Cross, played with sinister intelligence by Kiefer Sutherland.”
Variety‘s Justin Chang finds that “Nair’s latest immigrant saga saddles itself with a laborious narrative structure and half-baked thriller elements in a misguided attempt to open up what should be an intimate, introspective story…. As usual with Nair’s work, the music is vibrant, flowing and ever-present, blending Michael Andrews’ funk-based score with traditional Pakistani Qawwali tunes and a number of Urdu poems recited in song. Intentionally or not, Declan Quinn’s widescreen lensing imposes an unmistakable moral reading on the story, contrasting the warm, enveloping hues of Lahore with the soulless corporate interiors of New York.”
“Ultimately, heavy-handed is the operative word,” agrees the Playlist‘s Oliver Lyttelton. “The brief moments of nuance—Changez admitting he smiled for a moment when watching the 9/11 attacks at the sheer audacity of the move—suggest the kind of film it might have been, but for the most part Nair is interested in telling, rather than showing, and she’s not telling you anything you didn’t know before.”
Updates: The Reluctant Fundamentalist “may not make the noise of the two most recent opening-night films, Black Swan and The Ides of March, but it is tense, thoughtful and truly international in breadth and depth,” write Richard and Mary Corliss in their first dispatch to Time. And it’s “Ahmed’s show. A Brit of Pakistani heritage, an Oxford scholar and rap artist (his ‘Post 9/11 Blues’ was banned by the BBC for being ‘politically sensitive’), he first attracted attention as one of the detainees in Michael Winterbottom’s The Road to Guantanamo and starred as the leader of a would-be jihadist plot in Chris Morris’s black comedy Four Lions. Handsome, seductive and pensive, straddling the First and Third Worlds, Ahmed keeps viewers guessing as to what makes Changez run. If The Reluctant Fundamentalist is no life-altering movie, it surely offers Ahmed a star-making role.”
For the Telegraph‘s Robbie Collin, Nair presents “some heavy-handed visual metaphors,” but: “It is a testament to Ahmed’s considerable talent that he delivers a strong performance regardless.”
Updates, 9/2: “The whole story is told in flashback to Liev Schreiber, who plays Bobby Lincoln, an American journalist based in Lahore who is striving to find an American professor who has been kidnapped from the university where Changez now lectures,” notes John Bleasdale at Cinespect. “The film is a thriller, a character piece, and a romance, and ultimately all these plot strands get tangled and are too much for the sleight novelistic conceit of having Changez narrating all of this to Bobby while the CIA and a student demonstration orbit and seethe outside.”
Cinema Scope runs a piece by Christoph Huber, for which, “to accurately represent the wretchedness of this ‘world cinema’ experience…, has been written in German and babelfished, with only the most necessary edits applied.”
Update, 9/15: Mekado Murphy talks with Nair for the New York Times.
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