Wednesday, August 29, 2012

VENICE 2012: Mira Nair's "Reluctant Fundamentalist" expectantly fizzles

The opening night feature at Venice Film Festival this year lost any weight or anticipation attached to it when it was announced that Mira Nair's latest, "The Reluctant Fundamentalist", would fill the spot. Last year wasn't exactly spectacular, but you could do a lot worst than the atmospherics of George Clooney's "The Ides of March". Ringing in the festival with a primarily negative response is rarely an encouraging notion, and I'll admit that I have worrisome suspicions regarding the rest of the festival. All those aside, at some point things will be picking up in some way. I can't imagine any of the three major European festivals without even a single resounding standout.
Guy Lodge (In Contention): The Mira Nair of "Mississippi Masala" would have found sufficient dramatic fire and urgency in the protagonist's ample personal conflicts with his family, his colleagues and his lover to make such a stakes-raising gambit redundant; as it is, all the film's characters are straw men in an argument as promisingly heated and finally un-nuanced as those between Anna Paquin's naively righteous Lisa and an opposingly impassioned Middle Eastern classmate in Kenneth Lonergan's "Margaret." That, incidentally, is a film that spoke no less provocatively, and a lot more subtly, about the see-sawing burdens of guilt and martyrdom in post-9/11 America -- without ever being as strenuously About Things as Nair's sporadically stimulating misfire."
Deborah Young (Hollywood Reporter): "Nair is extremely careful not to demonize the American or the Pakistani but rather to suggest how much they have in common, had politics not put them on opposite sides of the table sipping tea, but inches away from a loaded gun. Not as magnetic a presence as Ahmed, the scruffy Schreiber turns the role of the expat journalist into a complex, convincing character with solid reasons for the choices he has made, proving an apt catalyst for the final stages of Changez’s transformation."
Justin Chang (Variety): "Mohsin Hamid's slender, gemlike novel about a young Pakistani man's post-9/11 identity crisis receives illuminating but heavy-handed screen treatment in "The Reluctant Fundamentalist." Despite a fine central performance by Riz Ahmed, a strong feel for cultural conflict and a lively evocation of contempo Lahore, Mira Nair's latest immigrant saga saddles itself with a laborious narrative structure and half-baked thriller elements in a misguided attempt to open up what should be an intimate, introspective story. Combo of literary prestige and exotic appeal should give the picture a shot with arthouse audiences willing to prevail past that mouthful of a title."

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