Leonard Cohen: Bird on a Wire
Palmer's film is that rare concert doc that isn't for established fans only.
Mira Nair's "The Reluctant Fundamentalist" follows the transformations of the wide-eyed Pakistani Changez Khan (Riz Ahmed), who arrives in the US with great professional ambitions. And he accomplishes much before the planes hit the World Trade Center, a crisis that challenges his materialism, leading him to step back from the many choices he's made, in his capitalist career and his love life.
He narrates his story, seen in flashback, while meeting in the Pak Tea House in Lahore with American journalist Bobby Lincoln (Liev Schreiber). Quite bulky for a journalist, with something strange in his posture, Lincoln seems out of place. A local American professor has just been kidnapped. Khan, who has long since abandoned his clean-shaven face and American business suit for a beard and traditional Shalvar-Kameez, is now the leader of a questionable Pakistani activist movement. Lincoln thinks he might have some answers, but Khan insists on telling his own life story first. The choice seems odd, considering that a man's life is in danger.
The first part of his biography is all too familiar. A poor immigrant from a colorful family abandons his roots to dive head first into the American Dream. He stumbles into love with sullen artist Erica (Kate Hudson), coping with the loss of her previous boyfriend. He seizes a major corporate job under the stern tutelage of Jim Cross (Kiefer Sutherland). Khan outshines his colleagues with a combination of aggression and brilliance. Including some unnecessary coincidences, we have seen this first act before in many other movies.
Then, however, things change. After a long business day in Southeast Asia, Khan sits in a dark, quiet hotel room. He turns on the television. The second plane hits the towers. The trailer for "The Reluctant Fundamentalist" shows post-9/11 America as a land of war, triumphalism, and bigotry. But that's not what happens in the film itself. Yes, Khan is humiliated by every type of law enforcement. Customs officials strip search him. Police officers arrest him for being the wrong man in the wrong place at the wrong time. FBI agents get in his face (meaning, they virtually stare into the camera) and accuse him of assorted terrorist schemes.