Have you watched a film that features a standout performance, an incredible talent and then you wonder why you haven’t heard more about them? I feel like I’ve been saying the above a lot lately for various actresses and actors, not just Riz Ahmed, so I may write about one of them from time to time.
Yes, with the success of HBO mini-series ‘Of the Night’ it seems like the world is finally catching onto what a talent Ahmed is, it’s taken a while though. The first thing I remember seeing him in was ‘Dead Set’ a British zombie-cum-reality television show. Then he dropped off my radar for another two years until his role in ‘Four Lions’ as Omar. He’s superb in it. It’s one of the darkest black comedies I’ve ever seen and does such a perfect job of teetering on the edge while being hilarious.
His facial expressions are some of the best I’ve seen. Ahmed has these eyes that are just so damn good at conveying his feelings, of panic or conflict. Of excitement or fear. He’s played a multitude of roles in his career so far and has rather nailed them all. Compare his super confident character in Four Lions to the young, wide-eyed and nervous student that falls in with Jake Gyllenhaal’s one man wrong crowd in ‘Nightcrawler’. Perhaps unfairly to Ahmed, he’s overlooked hugely in that film because of just how incredible Gyllenhaal is, but when you watch the film again, you realise just how good he is. His naivety is charming and yet tragic simultaneously.
Settled into my seat watching ‘Jason Bourne’, I had no idea Ahmed was in it, so that was a pleasant surprise. Even if his talents are somewhat criminally underused. He still does more than his best with what he’s given though, playing a social media up-starter. You have to imagine that Ahmed’s keen political and social brain probably drew him to the role though. A highly intelligent and aware individual, his career outside of cinema is inspiring. He’s certainly one of the most in tune of his generation and it’s fascinating to read or listen to interviews with him. I may not be a fan of rap, or the kind of music that Ahmed produces but I listen anyway. He’s a superb writer, lyricist. I can only hope he turns that focus to a screenplay or directing in the future. Currently though, he has so much more to say as an onscreen presence.
Perhaps the film that single-handedly made me appreciate Ahmed the most is one I feel few have seen. ‘The Reluctant Fundamentalist’, based on a novel by Mohsin Hamid, is a tough film to watch. It’s flawed too, but worth it for the ideas and the performance. Set in the world of 9/11 both pre and post-it, it challenges social views, the changing world and what is right versus what is wrong. Perhaps most difficult to convey is how his character blurs his own existence in a bid to fit in, the outcome forcing him to challenge everything he thought he knew about himself. He’s the lead and he more than captivates in that role. It was a film that I was disappointed not to be able to discuss with somebody else because it, and his performance deserve to be talked about and debated. Regardless of your view on the film, it’s powerful and you finish it with questions. Perhaps about your own views, perhaps about the view the media paints. I thought about this film for a good few weeks after. It challenged me and most of that came from just how good Ahmed was in that central role.
I’ll admit that the one Ahmed film missing on my list is ‘The Road To Guantánamo’, the only previously released film of his I’ve yet to catch up on. Don’t think for one minute though that he plays the same role again. The only reason I watched ‘Shifty’ was to see his turn as a drug dealer. It’s brilliant, entirely different to how charming he is in other roles, but great acting once again. Same story with ‘Ill Manors’ too! He pops up in ‘Centurion’ too, though I doubt many will remember him in it as I seem to be one of the few people who’s watched it more than once.
If he’s not yet on a worldwide radar then I have to ask A) why the hell not?! and B) I doubt he’ll retain a low profile after this December with his role in the Star Wars side film, Rogue One. At just 33, there’s many years ahead for Ahmed. With an interesting music career also in progress, he feels like an important actor of his generation. Not afraid to question what’s wrong in the UK and worldwide. Perhaps 2017 will be his year.