Movie Review: ‘Imperium’
Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Toni Collette, and Sam Trammell
Plot: A young FBI agent goes undercover to infiltrate a white separatist movement.
Imperium, first and foremost, will be remembered for being the movie where Harry Potter became a skinhead. The contrast between the two roles is just too great to not make you chuckle at its own ludicrousness. Despite his bold choices in roles in a his post-Potter career, Daniel Radcliffe will have a hard time avoiding recognition as the boy who lived, however, if there was a role that could break that recognition, it is this one as FBI Agent Nate Foster. He delivers some incredible intensity, whether his pulse is literally pounding while fighting alongside the skinheads or he is putting on a brave face trying to make good with some truly despicable individuals. It is our empathy for his character that drives the tone of the movie.
And yet, it is Nate’s empathy for people, in general, that made him perfect for the job of going undercover, so says his superior, played by Toni Collette. With that kind of exposition, you might mistake this movie for trying to meet the neo-Nazis on common ground, but, ultimately, it works more like a “Map to the Stars” of this movement. The street-level urban commandos. The race-war prepping militia. The ritualistic KKK. They all get a chance to explain themselves to Foster, but none of them have any deeper nuance to the usual fear-mongering rhetoric. I suppose, I’m a fool to think that there might be something more.
This is the second movie this year to deal with neo-Nazis (the first being the brutal Green Room), and I doubt either had the foresight to know that this newest US election cycle would grant white separatists entrance into the mainstream discussion again. Separate, they are more focused on depicting them as evil rather than damaged, but together, they paint a bigger picture: the marketability of hate and fear and the way young lost souls are conditioned similar to fight dogs, a concept that feels accurate but not yet illustrated to its full potential. It does, however, depict the ideas of Mike German, the FBI agent whose undercover career inspired this film. He was adamant about considering these people a “leaderless resistance” rather than the “lone wolf terrorists” they were called in an official capacity. It makes for a much more frightening threat.
Nevertheless, its failings for painting its themes with too broad a brush do not stop it from being an effective thriller. Radcliffe does fine work, and director Ragussis builds tension in such a way that makes the film feel like a powder keg waiting too blow at any moment.