Based on the 2007 novel by Moshin Hamid which takes place in a cafe in Lahore where an unidentified American (Liev Schreiber) is interviewing a young Pakistani man named Changez (Riz Ahmed) about his time in America. Changez agrees to talk only if he will listen to his whole story. It begins in Lahore where Changez grows up feeling stifled by the expectations of his traditional upper class family. He is too ambitious to appreciate the values of his father, (Om Puri), a scholar and a poet. So he manages to get accepted to Princeton, where he excels and receives a degree in finance. Then he effortlessly snags a job in a prestigious Wall Street firm which takes over faltering companies and turns them around by whatever means necessary. His laser-sharp analytical mind which can spot weakness and figure out ingenious ways to correct them serves him well and he moves rapidly up the corporate ladder. His focus is complete and he never questions the consequences of the means to the end which are often brutal layoffs, salary cuts, management shakeups and facility closings.
He takes to his position in the cutthroat world of high stakes finance and the upscale lifestyle it affords him. He begins an affair with the niece of one of the partners, a quirky, spoiled and slightly-neurotic artist played affectingly by Kate Hudson. Their relationship is considerably more nuanced than the one which he has with the firm with it’s constant emphasis on the fundamentals of the bottom line which seems to have trumped all feelings of empathy or compassion for those whose lives he has affected. He has become a Gordon Gekko kind of guy who has bought the American dream
Then comes 9/11 and everything changes. When he witnesses it on the news, his first reaction is one of sly satisfaction at the audacity of it all. And he then experiences the suspicion and indignities of a paranoid America toward foreigners. As the dream turns into a nightmare the veil falls from his eyes and he begins to be aware of the brutal venality of the world in which he has become such a successful player. It actualizes itself when he is in Istanbul to close down a venerable family run publishing house because it is not making sufficient profit for the company which acquired it. He is finally able to see the value of what they represent and what they print - beyond the holy grail of bottom line profitability. He quits his job, quits his romance, and quits America to return to Pakistan.
He gets a teaching job at a university where he teaches a new version of finance based on his western experience but geared to a Pakistani reality. His classes attract a lot of attention and he becomes a rational voice for a modern Pakistan. He is not a religious fundamentalist but rather an advocate for fundamental human rights, which is cause enough for him to be under suspicion by the CIA, which is who Liev Schreiber turns out to be. A botched kidnapping, student unrest and mutual distrust all escalate to cause a disastrous end to the cafe interview.
The sad and sorry truth is that it really feels like an accurate picture of the situation today - a hopeless stand off between irreconcilable entrenched ideologies. It is very easy to see both sides of this story. And it feels extra timely since the Boston bombings. Will it never end?
Written by Belle McIntyre