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The Reluctant Fundamentalist
A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Reluctant Fundamentalist's heavy themes -- including alienation, discrimination, terrorism (or the threat of it), economics, and geopolitical strife -- may minimize its appeal to teens. There's also some edgy/intense content, including kidnapping, shootings, demonstrations, and moments where violent pictures (like one of a man's face beaten to a pulp, his throat slashed) appear. There's also some swearing, including "s--t," social drinking, and sexuality (kissing, a couple rolling around in bed, with naked shoulders seen).
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What's the story?
There's no doubt that Changez (Riz Ahmed) has done well. A Pakistani who left his family behind to study business at Princeton University, he has climbed the ladder of corporate success, becoming one of the youngest associates at Wall Street power player Underwood Sampson. His expertise: determining how to make companies more efficient and helping dismantle them into leaner, more profitable units. He doesn't think about the human cost. But then comes 9/11, and on the way back to the United States from traveling overseas, Changez is humiliated at an airport security check. In a city consumed by grief and, for some, suspicion, he feels more and more alone. Only his artist girlfriend, Erica (Kate Hudson), manages to soothe his troubled soul. But even she's out of complete reach; she's still mourning the death, many years earlier, of a fiance. Soon Changez begins to re-examine his identity, getting back in touch with his culture and Muslim religion and finally deciding to head back to Pakistan, where he becomes a sought-after professor known for his brilliance and critiques of capitalism. He also becomes the subject of an American journalist, Bobby (Liev Schreiber), who wonders whether Changez is part of a terrorist group that's kidnapped an American citizen.
Is it any good?
Based on the same-named novel by Mohsin Hamid, this film deserves kudos for aiming high and taking on such weighty matters as post-9/11 geopolitics and the search for your true calling. In less able hands, it would have been a bore. But director Mira Nair is a boss -- she can paint a compelling scene with her eyes closed, the lighting just so, the pacing just right, the actors perfectly cast (except, perhaps for Hudson, who's only passable).
In Ahmed, Nair has a splendid partner. His Changez is layered and complex -- a strange man at the crossroads of two cultures, buffeted between both. Schreiber's Bobby is on murkier ground; though the actor does a fine job imbuing the role with as much gravitas as possible, he's simply not as clearly conceptualized as Changez, and the character suffers in comparison. In fact, the film whispers in the end when it's supposed to crescendo' we can spot the denoument a mile away. (Okay, maybe three.) Still, The Reluctant Fundamentalist is a beautifully filmed, well-performed drama that pushes viewers to take a look at issues we may feel reluctant to examine. That it does so with a sometimes obvious hand is forgivable.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about what The Reluctant Fundamentalist is saying about political and ideological conflicts. What does it want viewers to think about?
Talk to teens about the aftermath of 9/11 and how it changed America and the rest of the world. What other movies/media have dealt with this subject?
Why do you think Changez changed his perspective? What contributed to his metamorphosis?
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