Thursday, May 2, 2013
The Reluctant Fundamentalist
There's a reductionist quality to Mira Nair's "The Reluctant Fundamentalist" that doesn't wash with me. Riz Ahmed plays Changez Khan, brilliant and brimming with self-confidence, who comes to America from Pakistan, aces college and business school, and lands a high-paying job with a top Wall Street consulting firm. Only after 9/11 does he feel the tug of his homeland, and only because a couple of dehumanizing civil liberties violations force him to grapple with his identity. On one occasion, he's pulled from a TSA airport line and strip-searched; on another, he's mistaken for a thief to whom he bears at best an attenuated physical resemblance and arrested and brought in for questioning ("How do you feel about America?").
Kate Hudson plays the niece of Changez's boss (Kiefer Sutherland), an installation artist who's recently lost her husband and begins an affair with Changez. To his shock, she uses private words from their most intimate moments in her new show, further objectifying him. (The show is entitled "I had a Pakistani once," a line Sutherland dropped during Changez's initial interview.) Art-world friends of mine tell me that none of the Hudson material passes the smell test. She was already working on the show when they met, and got it on the basis of completed work, so they called BS on the entire show's being about him. (They also hated her as a brunette.) I'll always have a soft spot for Hudson after "Almost Famous" - what especially didn't work for me is the framing device involving Liev Schreiber as a CIA agent interviewing Changez after he's moved back to Pakistan, which adds nothing but running time (the movie's over two hours). Changez's story is interesting enough without the overlay.
More fundamentally (so to speak), I just don't buy Changez's return to Pakistan and embrace of fraught rhetoric. This is a man who's always felt far more at home at a Princeton eating club than a hookah lounge in Karachi. What happens to him on the basis of his ethnicity and appearance is deeply lamentable, but in the grand scheme of wrongs perpetrated upon minorities, a couple of overaggressive incidents in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 don't sell me on this transformation.