'Reluctant Fundamentalist' tries to straddle dual worlds

Riz Ahmed in 'The Reluctant Fundamentalist'
Riz Ahmed in 'The Reluctant Fundamentalist'
Photo by Mirabai Films
| Thursday, May 23, 2013, 8:55 p.m.

Mohsin Hamid's 2007 bestseller “The Reluctant Fundamentalist” charted a successful Pakistani immigrant's ill-fated love affair with an American woman and post-9/11 America.

In director Mira Nair's drama, we track the story through a long interview conducted by an American journalist, and possible CIA agent (Liev Schrei­ber). He questions Changez Kahn (Riz Ahmed), a radical Pakistani professor, about his involvement in the kidnapping of an American academic.

Kahn leads his interrogator, and us, through his days as a bright-eyed striver at Prince­ton and his meteoric rise as a Wall Street star (mentored by a slick, chilling Kiefer Sutherland). He even woos the boss's niece (Kate Hudson, dramatically out of her depth).

After the Twin Towers attacks, he's singled out for humiliating rounds of racial profiling, street-corner taunting and cavity searches by airport cops who snap their rubber gloves with relish. Even his lover reveals a wide streak of thoughtless racism.

Nair's film draws a clear parallel between violent Islamic fundamentalism and job-destroying capitalist economic fundamentalism, and firmly rejects both. If only good intentions made up for heavy-handed dramatics.

Colin Covert is a movie critic for the Star-Tribune (Minneapolis).

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