Affleck, Cooper, Jackman, Clooney… wherever you looked at the Oscars this year, you saw an A-list chin sporting some fetching face-fur.
When the Pakistani-born, Princeton-educated Changez Khan (Riz Ahmed) grows a beard in the aftermath of 9/11, though, it instantly makes him dodgy.
Mean looks in bars, strip searches at the airport and subtle denigrations at the Wall Street analyst firm where he had previously been a rising star are just a few of the indignities he has to suffer.
The true nature of Ahmed’s mind-set is a matter of some import to Bobby Lincoln (Liev Schreiber), a journalist who suspects he might be involved in a kidnapping.
In a Lahore café in 2010, Changez tells his story. Ambiguous protagonists are enough of a rarity to make Nair’s film intriguing, with each extended flashback revealing more of who Changez is, what he stands for and where his loyalties lie.
Less successful is screenwriter William Wheeler’s determination to squeeze them within the body of a ticking-clock thriller, something that seems more of a distraction than an integral narrative element.
For all Nair’s attempts to introduce urgency – mind games, angry student demonstrations, suggestions of string-pulling operatives lurking in the shadows – it remains lacking throughout.
As a character study, though, The Reluctant Fundamentalist is never less than fascinating, mostly thanks to a terrific performance from Ahmed that exudes intelligence and cool charisma.
Get past the starchy title and you’ll find a compelling tour through noughties history with an admirably international outlook. Be prepared, though: this is a film that takes its time…