The Reluctant Fundamentalist review

Flawed but ambitious, this arresting drama deserves a watch. It stars Ahmed as Changez Khan, a lecturer in Lahore, extolling anti-Western sentiments to his students, under suspicion of being involved in the kidnapping of an American professor. He's interviewed by journalist Bobby Lincoln (Schreiber) and recounts his life over the last 10 years or so. In flashback we see his arrival in the US as he enthusiastically takes up a position as a business analyst for Keifer Sutherland's Wall Street firm, and strikes up a relationship with photographer Erica (Hudson). But after the Twin Towers are struck in 2001, he is treated differently - intimate searches at airports for example, being spat on and abused - "Fuck you, Osama" one bigoted redneck shouts at him at one point. He goes through a sea change in his beliefs, slowly coming round to adopting an anti-US stance on his return to Pakistan.

But does he become radicalised? If so, it certainly isn't in a heated or aggressive way. Reluctant is certainly the right term for him. And Ahmed gives a most graceful performance in the lead, underplaying admirably at the constant hurdles he is soon having to face. Nair's direction is also graceful. She allows time for the narrative to unfold, we are not battered over the head with rhetoric - the script is literate without being preachy or sanctimonious.

Unfortunately it tries for a suspenseful climax that falls far short of its aims. Tension and excitement are sadly lacking as the clock ticks down as Khan is questioned in the university building soon to be stormed by rioters. But this does not spoil what has gone before. It's a sprawling tale encompassing big ideas and Nair pulls it off on the whole. Absorbing and consistently watchable, The Reluctant Fundamentalist, despite its faults, is an impressive achievement well worth seeing.

The Reluctant Fundamentalist at IMDb

Stuart O'Connor is the Managing Editor of Screenjabber, the movie review website he co-founded with Neil Davey far too many years ago. He likes all genres, as long as the film is good (although he does enjoy the occasional bad "guilty pleasure"), and drinks way too much coffee.

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