Aside from Daniel Radcliffe’s superb central performance, Imperium‘s strong core comes from director Daniel Ragussis’ depiction of malign normalcy. A seemingly average household is exposed as a neo-nazi stronghold through the slow reveal of swastikupcakes, a loving wedding is held in the glow of a burning crucifix, and such thoughtful details elevate the film from watchable to must-watch.
Dan deniers will want to deride Imperium as Harry Potter and the Banality of Evil, but this would be without foundation. Radcliffe pulls out all the stops to convince and captivate, finding that elusive X-factor often missing when actors play pretenders, portraying a character with depth to delve without risk of being swept away in the charade. His is not the only star power though; whether it is Toni Collette’s fed handler or any of the cell leaders, charisma is the weapon of choice on each side of the battleground and this arsenal is chock-a-block with magnetic personalities.
Imperium races through, the pacing and tone set by Will Bates’ thrumming, menacing beat of a score. The visuals play fast too, with powerful montages providing context and cues as viewers are led deeper into the off-kilter world of the American white supremacist. Ragussis keeps the action authentic, not shying away from spitting and swearing at rallies, or the occasional smaller fight, but in keeping with message and reality Imperium doesn’t engage in Hollywood hyperbole and turn the spectacle up for the sake of it.
Imperium deserves to be seen as one of the great undercover films of recent years, and in many respects could go toe-to-toe at the kerb with American History X. A riveting thinkpiece on repugnant thoughts; a beautiful (and timely) dive into the hideous American underbelly.
CAST: Daniel Radcliffe, Toni Collette, Tracy Letts, Sam Trammell, Nestor Carbonell
DIRECTOR: Daniel Ragussis
WRITERS: Michael German (story), Daniel Ragussis (screenplay)
SYNOPSIS: Idealistic FBI agent Nate Foster (Radcliffe) goes undercover to take down a radical white supremacy terrorist group.