Rating: 4 stars out of 5
There are certain fundamental aspects which make a good film. A clinging story, an intelligent soundtrack, transformative settings, and appealing characters. We’re not reluctant to say it, but this film’s got it all.
Based on Mohsin Hamid’s 2007 publication, this film adaptation by director Mira Nair closely follows its themes of post 9/11 xenophobia and Western dominance, whilst maintaining a focus on the rich culture surrounding the protagonist’s origins.
Riz Ahmed, a British actor of Pakistani heritage, plays Changez Khan, the unlikely anti-hero of this story. Upon encountering a hard-nosed journalist (portrayed by Liev Schreiber) who’s investigating the abduction of an American professor in Lahore, Pakistan, Changez divulges his life story to him and the audience.
Changez is gentlemanly in deamanour, but deeply passionate in his beliefs
Stylistically, the film bounces between the present-day setting of Lahore and segmented flashbacks of Changez’s life, from his humble interactions with his family to his emigration to America, where he relentlessly forges himself a successful career as an analyst. Although such pacing becomes reminiscent of that of ‘The Life of Pi’, Changez’s tale is one which is less fantasy, more reality.
Changez’s struggles in the chasing of the American dream are engaging because they are predicaments which the audience can relate to. These conflicts are given colour by the rest of the cast.
Kiefer Sutherland playing the fearful boss who has an eye on Changez
Om Puri plays Abu, Changez’s poet father who expresses disappointment with his son’s career choice. Kate Hudson plays Changez’s love interest, a free-spirited photographer grieving over a past relationship. And even with spectacles and a suit, Kiefer Sutherland remains ferociously intense as Changez’s boss.
But naturally the spotlight does shine the brightest on Changez, especially where the film begins to make its transition during the second half. This is brought about by the events of 9/11, which subsequently turn Changez’s achievements upside-down, a transformation that is both gut-wrenching and tragic to watch.
As displeasing as it may seem, the film here actually demonstrates a genuine social commentary of sorts. The treatment of immigrants living in America, especially within the Muslim community, had become outrageous and prejudicial after the terrorist-led destruction of the New York Twin Towers.
Changez's life becomes shaken after the events of 9/11
Following the essence of the book, the film prods at a topic that’s arguably controversial, with a subtle emphasis on Western arrogance and racism. Yet the film does strike a balance between minority hostility and sentiment for the American lives lost, instead of an all-out attack on narrow-minded Americans.
Much like this thoughtful balance of sensitivities, the execution of the film (all 128 minutes of it) is a thorough balance of hopeful optimism and plummeting misfortune. Paired with a thumbs-up performance from Riz, this is a film that will stir something within you and make you think.
And those are fundamentally the best kind of films.