MIRA NAIR changes much (for the worse) in her adaptation of "The Reluctant Fundamentalist," but she leaves the novel's most provocative passage intact.
It's the moment when an Islamist sympathizer explains why, though he was living a privileged life as a Wall Street hotshot, he smiled with awe when he saw the 9/11 massacres on television.
Something to do with David hitting Goliath (poor-taste alert). The fellow goes on to say that the collapsing Trade Center buildings represented to him a deflating of American arrogance, perhaps forgetting for a moment that the towers were full of people, including hundreds of foreign nationals, Muslims among them.
The character's name is Changez (UK rapper Riz Ahmed), a well-to-do, western-leaning Pakistani man educated at Princeton and rising quickly through the ranks of a Goldman Sachs-ish investment bank.
He has a trendy artist girlfriend (Kate Hudson), a couple of friends at the bank and is the hand-picked protégé of the firm's proudly merciless boss (Kiefer Sutherland), who likes the way Changez ruthlessly sizes up acquisition targets and slashes employees to turn a profit.
There is a clunky comparison between the way Changez downsizes companies and his bloodless appreciation of the Trade Center collapse - the "fundamentals" of capitalism are supposed to echo the use of the word in the movie's title. (I wonder if the Goldman Sachs manager who boasted of doing God's work has read Mohsin Hamid's book.)
As for "reluctant," well, there are hints of a deeper humanity to Changez that he may display by movie's end, perhaps past the point that you care.
Nair has added a thriller/flashback structure to the book. Changez, now a radical professor back in Pakistan, is narrating the story of his life to a journalist (Liev Schreiber), who wants to know if Changez is tied to a kidnapping. CIA agents close in.
It's a transparent and unsuccessful attempt to inject suspense, and it's not comfortable space for Nair, who specializes in episodic, deeply personal, humane looks at cultural dislocation ("The Namesake").
She's less convincing in "Fundamentalist," working with the speechy, polemic rhetoric of the argument, of geo- and theo-politics.
You may also be unconvinced by the plot. Changez, for instance, is incensed to be plucked from a group of investment-banker pals at the airport and strip-searched.
As if Goldman Sachs flies commercial.