American dream sours

British actor-rapper Riz Ahmed (above) as a Pakistani of the moneyed class whose cushy life in New York changes abruptly after the 9/11 attack.

Review Drama

The Reluctant Fundamentalist (NC16)

130 minutes/Opened on Thursday/*** 1/2

The story: Changez Khan (Riz Ahmed) is part of the privileged class in his native Pakistan. He graduates from Princeton, takes up a job as a hotshot financial analyst in New York and falls in love with Erica, a photographer (Kate Hudson). Then terrorists attack the World Trade Centre twin towers in New York on Sept 11, 2001, and his world begins to crumble. Based on Pakistani author Mohsin Hamid's 2007 best-seller of the same name.

When the world sees a terrorist, does it end up creating one? This is the central teaser the film presents us with and director Mira Nair (Monsoon Wedding, 2001) draws out the tension as the answer is revealed, little by little.

A decade after 9/11, Changez is back at home and giving fiery lectures at a university.

When an American professor is kidnapped in Lahore, journalist Bobby Lincoln (Liev Schreiber) tracks him down and presses him for information.

Over the course of their conversation, Changez recounts the story of his life in the aftermath of the New York attacks.

The American dream he had been living began to sour and even though he is part of the moneyed class, he feels increasingly vulnerable.

He is targeted for intrusive searches and interrogations at an airport after a business trip and even when he is just walking on the street.

British actor-rapper Riz Ahmed (The Road To Guantanamo, 2006) does a credible job getting under Changez's skin.

The character seems a bit inscrutable at first, but his growing frustration is palpable when he finds that he cannot even grow a beard without getting funny looks.

This is what a heightened security environment means for someone who fits a certain profile, regardless of whether he is a terrorist.

The film does not delve into the rights and wrongs of such a situation, but it shows the disillusionment and resentment it creates.

Changez is not merely a one-issue character, though. He is also grappling with the morality of what he does for a living - the recommended solution he offers corporate clients is often downsizing - and his torn loyalties between two countries.

Intriguingly, the film also draws a parallel between fundamentalist and reductionist religion and fundamentalist and reductionist capitalism, and Changez makes a definitive choice regarding the two.

Ultimately, the film does give a resolution to the question it poses but, to its credit, it does not presume to give easy answers.

bchan@sph.com.sg - See more at: http://sph.straitstimes.com/premium/life/story/american-dream-sours-201…


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