As irony may have it, reluctance seems to be the key word that sums up critics’ view of Mira Nair’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist. Nair, owing to her widely artsy range of feature films closely escapes scorn with this one.
Starring British actor Riz Ahmed as the protagonist Changez Khan and Hollywood star Kate Hudson as his love interest, the film sees some powerful performances. However ever so surprisingly, not one critic has urged his or her audience to go catch this film or “try not to miss it!” but inversely, as Robbie Collin wrote for The Telegraph “You leave the cinema with your teeth clenched, muttering: “at least it meant well””.
The Reluctant Fundamentalist may mean well but falls short of gauging the interest of its audience. In true Nair style, the film delves into the intricate workings of the mind in the backdrop of post 9/11 hostility towards Islam. Rotten Tomatoes gives the film a 50-50 tightrope-balanced review by calling it “technically proficient with solid acting and cinematography” and yet “heavy-handed” with an over-ambitious message.
Anthony Quinn of The Independent appreciates the positives. He compliments Nair’s rare ability to envisage Pakistani author Mohsin Hamid’s book by the same title into an intense film. “Nair draws a terrific performance from (Riz) Ahmed as the divided hero,” Quinn adds. However, a short paragraph later he quips in an unpleasant remark – “Not all of it is so compelling.”
Being a film that revokes the memory of a particular 9/11 genre, it bears the weight of delivering a story that surpasses more simplistic films that fell within a decade of the tragedy. That and Nair’s name heightens critics’ skepticism for the film. Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian urges critics to cut it some slack. He writes appreciatively, "Its message might be flabby, but Mira Nair's adaptation of Mohsin Hamid's novel is still a bold piece of global storytelling."
Nair herself calls the film a love story with an existential crisis at the center. "It's more of a love story and a thriller - 9/11 is a game changer in the movie. The story is about a man who tries to find himself," she said. But the “love story” doesn’t seem to tug at the hearts of critics who grudgingly give the film a maximum of three stars.