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The Reluctant Fundamentalist(2013)
A young Pakistani man is chasing corporate success on Wall Street. He finds himself embroiled in a conflict between his American Dream, a hostage crisis, and the enduring call of his family's homeland.
For more about The Reluctant Fundamentalist and the The Reluctant Fundamentalist Blu-ray release, see the The Reluctant Fundamentalist Blu-ray Review published by Casey Broadwater on August 28, 2013 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.0 out of 5.
Starring: Riz Ahmed, Kate Hudson, Liev Schreiber, Kiefer Sutherland, Om Puri, Haluk Bilginer
Director: Mira Nair
» See full cast & crew
The Reluctant Fundamentalist Blu-ray Review
Ideology and Assumptions
Reviewed by Casey Broadwater, August 28, 2013
The "post-9/11 novel" is practically its own sub-genre at this point, but we're still too close to the event to have a single work of fiction that stands out as the defining, definitive book on our times, one that captures the global scope of the intercultural changes the War on Terror has wrought and tells a compelling story of an individual life within this new milieu. Not that there aren't a few glowing candidates. Along with Don DeLillo's Falling Man and Jonathan Safran Foer's Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, Mohsin Hamid's The Reluctant Fundamentalist— a New York Times bestseller published in 2007—has a spot at the top of the short list. A slim-but-ambitious novel of great perception, it examines the Islamic world's attitudes towards the U.S. through the eyes of a Pakistani emigre whose pursuit of the American Dream leaves him soulless. (And possibly, reluctantly, a fundamentalist.)
Essentially one long dramatic monologue, it's not a particularly cinematic novel, which makes it an odd choice for a film adaptation. And sure enough, a number of changes were needed to bring the book to the screen, to the extent that "inspired by" is perhaps a better phrase to use here than "based on." Some of these alternations—which were overseen by Hamid himself, assisting screenwriter William Wheeler—spoil the novel's experimental structure and narrative ambiguity, bringing what might've been an innovative drama into conventional political thriller territory. If not bold, though, it's at least competent, guided by the intuition and first-hand experience of Indian director Mira Nair, who, like the book's protagonist, once left the Subcontinent for an Ivy League education and a seat at the table of the American elite. If anyone could film this novel with authenticity, it would be her.
For a shot of suspense not present in the book, the film opens with the nab-him-off-the-street kidnapping of Anse Rainier (Gary Richardson), a secret CIA recruiter and professor at Pakistan's Lahore University. The CIA's suspicions lie with Rainier's colleague, Changez Khan (Riz Ahmed), a suspected radical who teaches classes on Islamic revolution and is known to have visited fundamentalist madrasahs. To get intel, the agency sends journalist- turned-spook Bobby Lincoln (Liev Schreiber) to interview Changez in a dilapidated teahouse/dormitory where angry young students presumably hatch their anti-American plans. Bobby claims to be writing an article on Pakistan's new militant academia, and Changez agrees to tell his story on one condition—that Bobby rid himself of preconceived notions and listen to the tale in its entirety. Following the novel's frame-story narrative, the film then jumps into a flashback that traces Changez' path from fresh-faced Princeton graduate to beard-sporting, possibly radicalized college professor.
As a member of Pakistan's declining old money nobility, Changez sets out to find his fortune in America, parlaying an Ivy League-on-scholarship degree into a lucrative analyst position at Underwood Samson, the "Navy SEALs of finance." His boss, Jim Cross (Kiefer Sutherland), recognizes Changez' talents and puts him on the fast-track to associateship, which involves flying around the world, evaluating companies' worth and performance, and laying off redundant workers en masse. Meanwhile, Changez falls in love with Erica (Kate Hudson), a photo-artist with commitment issues. All is mostly well until 9/11, when the climate for Muslim men in America—even well-bred, "suited and booted" men such as himself—changes immediately. Suddenly, he's subjected to invasive airport pat-downs and police harassment, slashed tires and suspicious looks, and he sees for the first time the arrogance, hypocrisy, and xenophobia of his adopted country. He grows his beard out in defiance and turns his evaluation skills on his own life and career, questioning whether success as a capitalist middleman is worth the existential cost.
To keep the story humming—or try to, anyway, the pacing is rather sluggish—the film cuts back and forth between Changez' recollections and the increasingly tense present situation surrounding the teahouse, where the students are organizing a protest. Bobby's CIA handlers are worried it might go ballistic before he can ferret out Rainier's location, and this leads to the inevitable standoff, which constructively criticizes the impatience and assumption-making shortsightedness of Western forces embroiled in an endless war with a vague enemy that we often don't even try to understand, preferring to turn anyone even marginally against U.S. policy into the one-dimensional caricature of a Quran-toting extremist. "Yes, I'm a Pakistani, yes I'm a Muslim, yes I'm an opponent of your country's assault on mine," says Changez, "but that's not all I am." While the knee-jerk reaction by some might be to read the film—and the novel—as an anti-American screed, that's simply not the case. Not only does this attitude miss the point completely, it makes the film's point—that a one-sided, us-versus-them mentality is disastrous to everyone.
That the film makes this point by repeatedly bludgeoning us over the head with it is another matter entirely. Much of the novel's narrative and thematic subtlety is lost in this to-the-screen translation, which finds it necessary to inject some unnecessary action into the story and occasionally fumbles with too-obvious, too-pointed exchanges of dialogue. Other alterations—like the cause of Erica's former boyfriend's death, from lung cancer to a drunk driving accident that she caused, leaving her guilt-ridden and emotionally distant—feel shoehorned in for the purposes of strained melodrama. It seems ironic that a film so critical of particularly American excess would succumb to Hollywood-style theatrics. Still, the film is well- made, realistically detailed, and brilliantly performed, the whole production grounded by Riz Ahmed's charismatic performance, which strikes the perfect balance of refinement and on-edge, had-it-up-to-here anger. (You may recognize Ahmed—who has a side career as a rapper—from Neil Jordan's Centurion or the terrorism satire Four Lions.) It may be too simplistic and forceful when it comes to its message—which is that there's a danger in making forceful, oversimplified assumptions about one another—but The Reluctant Fundamentalist still deserves a place in the small canon of post-9/11 films worth watching.
The Reluctant Fundamentalist Blu-ray, Video Quality
IFC's Blu-ray release of The Reluctant Fundamentalist is very watchable from a normal viewing distance, but there are some noticeable compression problems when you take a closer look at the 1080p/AVC encode. In the scene where Changez and Erica first go to bed together, there are blotches of extremely visible macroblocking in the shadows on and around her face. In a few other scenes, fine color gradients are broken up by splotchy artifacts and the distinctive stair-step patterns of banding. Elsewhere in the film, however, these issues disappear completely, which suggests they are specific to the post-processing of particular scenes and not an indication of global, across-the-board compression. (The film does sit on a 50 GB disc, after all, so it should have plenty of room.) These concerns are certainly worth noting, but they're unlikely to prove huge distractions unless you're viewing the film on an exceptionally large screen or through a projector. For the most part, the picture is clear and vivid, with normal amounts of source noise for a film shot digitally in what looks like mostly natural light. Fine detail is usually visible in the actors' faces and clothing—though there are certainly some moments of weird mushiness—and the color grading is balanced and complementary to the mood of each location. This is a case where we should be wary not to miss the forest for the few compression-ridden trees.
The Reluctant Fundamentalist Blu-ray, Audio Quality
The disc includes two audio options, a lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track and an uncompressed Linear PCM 2.0 stereo mix-down. Functionally, there's very little difference between the two, as the multi-channel offering is exceptionally front-heavy, utilizing the real speakers only for brief spells of quiet ambience—tea house chatter, the chants and jeers of the student protestors—and reverb-tinged bleeding room for composer Michael Andrews' East-meets-West orchestral score. What the mix lacks in immersion, it makes up in rock-solid clarity and dynamic expressiveness, with clear dialogue, thumping lows, and crisp highs. There's not much that stands out here, sound design-wise, but the track has no real shortcomings either. Optional English SDH and Spanish subtitles are available in bright yellow lettering.
The Reluctant Fundamentalist Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
The Reluctant Fundamentalist Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
The oft-repeated summation—"the book was better than the movie"—certainly applies to The Reluctant Fundamentalist. Where the novel trades in ambiguity and a subtle, near-philosophical treatment of the post-9/11 world, the movie flashes its big ideas in neon lights—in one case literally, see Erica's I've-got-a-Pakistani-boyfriend art installation—and feels compelled to add an unnecessary subplot about a kidnapped professor. Nonetheless, director Mira Nair has crafted a film that looks authentic and offers a perspective different from most War on Terror movies, which tend to see the world only through American eyes. This, and star Riz Ahmed's excellent performance, are reason enough to check it out. Recommended.
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The Reluctant Fundamentalist Blu-ray, News and Updates
• The Reluctant Fundamentalist Blu-ray - July 22, 2013
IFC Films and MPI Home Video will release on Blu-ray director Mira Nair's political drama The Reluctant Fundamentalist (2012), starring Kate Hudson, Kiefer Sutherland, Liev Schreiber, and Riz Ahmed. The release will be available for purchase online and in stores ...
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