Directed by Daniel Ragussis.
Starring Daniel Radcliffe, Toni Collette, Tracy Letts, Burn Gorman, Sam Trammell, Nestor Carbonell, Chris Sullivan, Seth Numrich and Adam Meier.
Nate Foster (Daniel Radcliffe), a young, idealistic FBI agent, goes undercover to take down a radical right-wing terrorist group. The bright up-and-coming analyst must confront the challenge of sticking to a new identity while maintaining his real principles as he navigates the dangerous underworld of white supremacy.
There’s long been a struggle when portraying white supremacists and the skinhead movement on the big screen; to exactly what level do you humanise them, do you glamourise their ideals, blame nature over nurture? Imperium sporadically plays with these questions, yet seems far more interested in the structure of a movement, the hierarchy, before intermittently hitting the audience with fast-cut montages of rallies etc. as if concerned the audience may be siding with those with whom they should not side.
Nate Foster (Daniel Radcliffe) is a desk-bound FBI agent who finds himself under the wing of veteran agent Angela Zamparo (the ever reliable Toni Collette). She sees something in the bookish, shy Foster and persuades him to go undercover as a neo-Nazi in an organisation seemingly ready to emulate the Oklahoma City bombing.
At it’s most interesting; director Daniel Ragussis finds the mundane amidst the, slightly surreal, hate. Where most are larger than life skinheads torn right out of over-wrought stereotypes-a pair of brothers drink, fight and spit at one another-it’s the alarmingly charming Gerry Conway (played brilliantly without menace by Sam Trammell) who stands out. He hosts vegetarian barbeques in his idyllic suburban home frequented by grand wizards of the KKK and the most extreme of skinheads, all while his kids play in their tree house, as if part of the norm.
It’s a shame then that Ragussis struggles to find cohesion between the perfectly normal and the parades of hate. Pacing is awkward and often heavy-handed which ultimately lends itself to a final fifteen minutes that feels inherently messy.
The script, adapted from a story by former FBI agent Michael German, although impeccably researched, tries a little too much with far too little. Within days of joining the group, Foster finds himself cozying up with those at the top, becoming the confidant of everyone from the head of the well-oiled militia-lite Aryan Alliance to Tracy Letts hate-spewing, ultra right wing, media personality Dallas Wolf. It’s all too much too soon.
There are impressive moments. Foster’s introduction to the gang is played impeccably as he spouts off his reasoning for wearing “Jew jeans,” and any moment Tracy Letts is on the screen the film has the air of something far more confident.
There’s bravery in the casting of Radcliffe too. Where he may seem to lack the traditional physicality of what may be expected from a gnarly neo-Nazi, while on screen with those twice the size of him, his days wearing over-sized robes are fast forgotten. Like Horns, Swiss Army Man, Kill Your Darlings, Radcliffe stands out. He’s fast becoming one of our most interesting, diverse actors.
At a time in which the threat of the “lone gunman” is an ever constant and a presidential nominee seems to be in cahoots with a KKK grand wizard, Imperium feels somewhat timely. It’s a shame then that it lacks the gut punch it so desperately needs. There’s a far more interesting study of modern fascism somewhere in Imperium; it’s a shame then that it’s buried beneath moral quandaries that never should have been asked in the first place.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★