Movie Review: Imperium (2016)
“Defend your nation. Become your enemy.”
Director: Daniel Ragussis
Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Toni Collette, Tracy Letts
Synopsis: A loner FBI agent infiltrates a Neo-Nazi white supremacy group.
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Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone) has the small frame and gaunt, haunted features of the stereotypical oddball loner; someone insignificant who’s probably harmless, but just might have the capacity to commit a headline-grabbing atrocity if nudged in the right direction. So it’s initially something of a surprise to see him play FBI agent Nate Foster in Daniel Ragussis’s thriller, Imperium. At least it is until a spiky, higher ranking agent named Zampano (Toni Collette – About a Boy), goes through his profile, and tacitly implies how closely his profile matches that of the classic social outcast. This, and the fact that his youthful idealism is still intact, has convinced Zampano that Foster’s the perfect man to infiltrate a Neo-Nazi group which has links to a right-wing activist who might know the whereabouts of a hijacked shipment of deadly chemicals.
To be fair, Foster is as incredulous as the audience that she would choose him for the role, but her decision does actually make a cockeyed kind of sense. Although Imperium is at pains to stress that extremists can be found in all walks of life, many weak and introverted characters are attracted to such groups simply because membership gives them a sense of belonging and the opportunity to gain some control over their lives. Even with his skinhead hairstyle, Foster might not look like a right-wing extremist, but he is as typical of the type as any musclebound thug with a swastika tattoo on his neck.
Despite his misgivings, it’s not long before Foster is welcomed into the white supremacy group, thanks to a fellow undercover agent, and encountering the usual trials and obstacles faced by every undercover agent in every movie you’ve ever seen. One member of the gang suspects their newest recruit is a plant, but can find no proof, despite almost stumbling across a clumsily concealed incriminating laptop in Foster’s apartment; a well-meaning black acquaintance almost blows his cover, and he faces the inevitable moral conundrum when he must avoid beating a black man without blowing his cover.
Considering the generic inevitability of these encounters, it’s something of a surprise to find that Imperium shows far greater subtlety when to exploring the Neo-Nazi culture. While a number of the members adhere to the stereotypical perception of shaven-headed bully boys – and one, in particular, demonstrates a Neanderthal-like impulse to harm any black man he sees with a white woman – the key figures are all portrayed as reasonably rational and intelligent people who give a lot of thought to their beliefs. As with many groups, there’s more talk than action when they convene, but it’s noticeable that when they organise a non-violent rally to promote their beliefs, it is they who become the victims of violence at the hands of masked supporters of racial equality. The message is clear – and compounded by having one of the supremacists being an intellectual lover of classical music.
Perhaps because it’s based on truth, Imperium finds itself negotiating a number of dead ends before finally arriving at a conclusion that feels both tacked on and rushed. Many of the key leaders within the organisation are absent when arrests are finally made, and it’s never really clear whether these absentees are ever brought to justice.
Despite these shortcomings, Imperium is entertaining enough when viewed as a straightforward thriller, even though it feels more lightweight than it should. Radcliffe does well in his part despite being miscast, but Collette is largely wasted in a role that appears to have been written as a woman solely to achieve a better gender balance amongst the cast.
(Reviewed 29th August 2016)