The Reluctant Fundamentalist

May 9, 2013 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Riz Ahmed, Kate Hudson, Liev Schreiber
Directed by: Mira Nair (“Amelia”)
Written by: William Wheeler (“The Hoax”)

Based on the New York Times bestselling novel, “The Reluctant Fundamentalist” takes viewers into the past of Changez (Riz Ahmed), a Pakistani man who moves to the U.S. to go to Princeton and  chase the American dream. He rises to the top of a consulting firm where he is immediately take under the wing of Jim (Kiefer Sutherland), an executive who believes Changez has what it takes to thrive in the industry. After 9/11, however, things take a turn for the worst for Changez as he is met with new difficulties because of his nationality. Met with hostility from a country he loves, he soon finds himself at the center of a kidnapping. Sitting across from him is Bobby Lincoln (Liev Schreiber), a reporter who wants to find out where Changez’s ideals lie.

The element that works best in “Fundamentalist” is Changez’s rise to prominence at his firm Underwood Samson. Changez is a natural at thinking critically and assessing values of companies, often reminded by Jim of his “gift.” Ahmed plays these scenes with a well-rounded, quiet confidence. In fact, Ahmed is easily the strongest part of the film. He shows not only the ability to anchor the story as the lead, but delivers a wide emotional range. The film also takes time to reminds its viewers of the uneasiness with foreigners (and especially those of Middle Eastern descent) that was held in America shortly after the 2001 attacks. Not only is he mistakenly arrested on the street, but when returning from an international flight, Changez is singled out, taken to a backroom and strip searched. It’s a touch ham-handed but director Mira Nair certainly gets her point across that racial profiling exists in this country.

Technically, the majority of the film takes place in flashbacks, which attempts to offer most of the intended tension for the film. The plot, however, becomes convoluted and the payoff is weak. Additionally, there is a subplot involving Changez and his girlfriend Erica (Kate Hudson) that don’t work. The romance (and the arguments) between these characters fail to ignite any passion or chemistry on the screen.

In the wake of the events of the Boston marathon bombings, “The Reluctant Fundamentalist” is likely to be a hot topic for debate. It’s anti-profiling themes can be taken several different ways, with its impact either strengthening or weakening depending on how one relates it to current events. Regardless, the film as a whole fails to muster up enough interest and wears out its welcome over its bloated 2-hour-plus run-time. It’s a nice display for Ahmed, who is likely new to American audiences, but doesn’t have enough substance to stand alone as a strong political thriller.

Amelia

October 23, 2009 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Hilary Swank, Richard Gere, Ewan McGregor
Directed by: Mira Nair (“The Namesake”)
Written by: Ronald Bass (“Rain Man”) and Anna Hamilton Phelan (“Girl, Interrupted”)

With as much fascinating insight that director Mira Nair offers into the life of legendary aviatrix Amelia Earhart in the biopic “Amelia,” it would be impossible to fill in a few footnotes much less an entire film on the pilot’s contributions to female aviation. Nair simply fails to make the picture soar. In fact, it hardly gets off the ground.

Based on the biographies “East to the Dawn” by Susan Butler and “Amelia Earhart: the Mystery Solved” by Elgin Long, “Amelia,” adapted by Oscar-winning screenwriter Ronald Bass (“Rain Man”) and Anna Hamilton Phelan (“Girl, Interrupted”) takes the all-too-familiar safe route and, in turn, does a disservice to the story’s precarious nature.

It is 1937 when we meet Amelia, a headstrong pilot who is attempting to become the first pilot to circumnavigate the globe. It’s a journey that would inevitably lead to her mysterious disappearance somewhere over the Pacific Ocean.

Taking a straight-forward angle to Earhart’s story and tangling it up with flashbacks and ineffective narration, Nair and company mix stock footage, newsreel-type transitions, and murky aerial shots that will elicit a lukewarm response for those who want more heart and adventure from the narrative.

Instead, Nair focuses on Earhart as a celebrity and a wife more than she does a pioneer of her field. The attention paid to her character’s depth might have been useful if “Amelia” was aspiring to become something as epic as Martin Scorsese’s “The Aviator,” but in Nair’s hands the film feels smaller in scale and significance.

We watch Earhart’s involvement with book publisher George Putnam (Richard Gere), a relationship that starts off more like a business venture than it does a courting session. From their marriage to Earhart’s love affair with aviation professor Gene Vidal (Ewan McGregor), Nair hits all the plot points reasonably well but never enthralls us with drama or, more importantly, wonderment behind Earhart’s flights through the farthest reaches of the world.

Even when Nair does get Amelia up in the air, Bass and Phelan’s script reduces her adventurer’s spirit in heavy-handed metaphors about the freeing sensation of flying. Swank does Earhart justice – although she more than likely won’t be getting another Oscar nod this year for her portrayal – but her contribution to the picture is an afterthought.

“I fly for the fun of it,” Amelia reminds us during the movie. It’s too bad Nair didn’t follow suit with her filmmaking.