In the same way novels can be better and worse than journalism at processing history, so can movies be better and worse than novels: too unreal yet too specific. For the movie of Mohsin Hamid's novel, director Mira Nair mounts a sensitive retrospective procedural of radicalization: Here's how a bright young Pakistani man (Riz Ahmed) goes straight from Princeton into a boutique corporate valuation firm (with Kiefer Sutherland as his sharkish boss), then has a promising meet-cute with an emotionally unavailable American woman (Kate Hudson), then has his priorities rearranged by the fallout of 9/11. He returns to Pakistan as a university lecturer whose ideas may or may not encourage terrorism, drawing attention from a journalist (Liev Schreiber) whose lengthy interview-cum-standoff serves as the film's narrative frame. At times, it's dense and sluggish, too much like a novel. But there is some exhilaration to be had from Nair's sincere interest in Hudson's character, who is appealing but hung up by grief over a previous relationship. In the richest moment, she offends her new suitor with a naively exploitative art project — she calls it an expression of love; he says it's defamation — and he stuns himself with the cruelty of his response. Thus the central arc is a function not just of sadly expected post-9/11 affronts — the airport strip search, the tire slashing, the colleagues getting nervous about his beard — but of doomed romance, with a vision of America that's all the more alluring for being so tragically stunted.
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