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The Reluctant Fundamentalist Follows A Bright Young Man from Princeton to Pakistan

In the same way novels can be better and worse than journalism at processing history, so can movies be better and worse than novels: too unreal, yet too specific. For the movie of Mohsin Hamid's novel, director Mira Nair mounts a sensitive retrospective procedural of radicalization: Here's how a bright young Pakistani man (Riz Ahmed) goes straight from Princeton into a boutique corporate valuation firm (with Kiefer Sutherland as his sharkish boss), then has a promising meet-cute with an emotionally unavailable American woman (Kate Hudson), then has his priorities rearranged by the fallout of 9/11. He returns to Pakistan as a university lecturer whose ideas may or may not encourage terrorism, drawing attention from a journalist (Liev Schreiber) whose lengthy interview-cum-standoff serves as the film's narrative frame. At times it's dense and sluggish, too much like a novel. But there is some exhilaration to be had from Nair's sincere interest in Hudson's character, who is appealing but hung up by grief over a previous relationship. In the richest moment, she offends her new suitor with a naively exploitative art project—she calls it an expression of love; he says it's defamation—and he stuns himself with the cruelty of his response. Thus the central arc is a function not just of sadly expected post-9/11 affronts—the airport strip search, the tire slashing, the colleagues getting nervous about his beard—but of doomed romance, with a vision of America that's all the more alluring for being so tragically stunted.

 
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