A potent feature debut for writer-director Qasim Basir, "Mooz-lum" attacks Islamist extremism while offering audiences a rare and illuminating depiction of life as a Muslim in America.
It's no wonder Tariq (Evan Ross) is so deeply troubled by the time he enters college. His father (Roger Guenveur Smith), a strict Muslim, is a man of iron will and absolute certitude who is determined to mold his son into a replica of himself. After his wife leaves with their daughter, he sends the boy Tariq to an Islamist school, where he is savagely beaten for trick-or-treating on Halloween. That same night, he's denounced for being a Muslim by the father of a little girl with whom he had struck up a secret friendship.
Years later, confused, conflicted, distant and surly, Tariq tentatively adjusts to college life in the days leading up to 9/11. Rock concerts, liquor, girls, freedom — these are all new to him, and his self-discovery is painful and wavering. The process is beautifully limned by Basir and Ross, perhaps best known to date for a recurring role on the CW series "90210."
Adding dimension to the film is the struggle between a dynamic comparative religion professor (Dorian Missick) and the university's conservative dean (Danny Glover). In deep, unarticulated conflict with his religion, Tariq is most uncomfortable around other Muslims like his mother and sister, who are at ease with their Muslim American identity and regard the Koran as an inspiration for beauty and peace.
Having created rich roles for his actors, Basir elicits from them inspired portrayals. Well-crafted in all aspects, "Mooz-lum" is not only rich in nuance, but also an engrossing entertainment made with skill and passion.
"Mooz-lum." Rated PG-13 for thematic material and some violent content. Running time: 1 hour, 35 minutes. At the AMC 30 at the Block, Orange.