Ever since her breakthrough with Monsoon Wedding, director Mira Nair has steered a steady ship through solid, if unremarkable, adaptations of The Namesake and Amelia. The Reluctant Fundamentalist, adapted from Moshin Hamid's novel, had all the earmarks of breaking that trend but eventually takes a turn for the ordinary.
Ten years after 9/11, Riz Ahmed's Changez, a charismatic Pakistani university lecturer on the CIA watch list after some firebrand classes promoting revolution, sits down in a quiet café for an interview with American journalist Liev Schreiber. He begins to tell his story, hoping that Schreiber will realise that he's not just another America-hater: Turns out in the months running up to 9/11, Changez was an up-and-comer on Wall Street, climbing the corporate ladder with Sutherland as his mentor; he also managed to squire artist Kate Hudson as a girlfriend. He loved the freedom to chase the American Dream. Then the towers fell and suddenly Changez finds the city to be a lot less friendly than before and every slight niggles away at his fondness for his adopted country…
Hopefully The Reluctant Fundamentalist is finally the film that gets Ahmed noticed. After great performances in Shifty and Four Lions (where he also played a fundamentalist), Ahmed solidifies his star potential playing this hardening of the heart, something Akin to Pacino in Godfather; there's a warmth behind the eyes but it's buried beneath hate and disappointment.
Nair comes up with great scenes such as when Schreiber suddenly realises that everyone in the café is actually a Changez follower and all eyes have been on him throughout the interview, or when Changez, in an attempt to break Hudson's heart, saying the worst thing he could say. Such scenes, however, are not as intoxicating as they should be. The story takes too long to get up and running and the early promise - marked by Ahmed's cool charm - soon dissipates into a rather bland collection of scenes that troop towards the inevitable. The climactic action scene was ill-advised, as is its naff mini twist.
Intermittingly engaging but ultimately flat, The Reluctant Fundamentalist is a missed opportunity.