by Nile Fortner
Daniel Radcliffe plays an FBI agent infiltrating a white supremacist organization in Daniel Ragussis’ debut feature.
An idealistic FBI agent, played by Daniel Radcliffe (Kill Your Darlings and Swiss Army Man) goes undercover to infiltrate a white supremacist group that’s plotting an act of terror. Based on the real-life experiences of former FBI agent Michael German, the thriller opens with a new and nerdy agent Nate Foster (Radcliffe) getting assigned to go undercover in a neo-Nazi organization suspected of planning a dirty bomb terrorist attack. The organization’s figurehead is Dallas Wolf, played by Tracy Letts (‘August: Osage County), a popular, hate-spouting radio talk show personality and author of Genocide: The Murder of White America.
Even though this is more of a dramatic thriller than a horror, I still would like to write about this for the ’31 Days of Horror.’ What makes this movie scary for someone like me isn’t the violence or anything like that. What is horrifying is how the movie shines a light on how the hatred can be anywhere, even right next door. For instance, the character Gerry, a suburban dad with a normal life, however, he, along with his wife, and his young kids, spew just as much hatred as the skinheads. Everyday cute children having been taught hateful words, stereotypes, and using it in offhand fashion sends a chill down the viewers back. It’s scary as in it shows the evil within our society, showing real life pictures throughout the movie of these hate groups, and the film also takes a look at their extreme ideals.
Imperium brings out most of its suspense from its central character’s efforts to convince the bad guys that he’s indeed one of them. While the young, newbie at work, and nerdy Nate would seem an unlikely choice for such a dangerous assignment to go undercover, the actor’s small and scrawny frame only increases the tension. The character has only his wits to rely on. In one scene, Nate tries to prevent his fellow skinheads from physically harming an interracial couple. In another, he yells racial epithets to a black friend who spots him marching in a neo-Nazi parade. In this and other instances, Radcliffe conveys a fearful desperation that makes you fear for his character’s safety. While watching this entire movie you can’t help but feel like you are walking on eggshells along with Radcliffe’s character.
Nate needs to figure out which organization is planning the terrorist attack, which means he has investigate all the hate groups. All the groups see him as smart and of good service. However, as time goes on, they start to wonder if they can trust Nate.
Now this movie came out around the same time as another neo-Nazi thriller called Green Room. I love that film, however, I think I enjoyed this film just a tad more. The real standout in this film is Radcliffe. At first, he is a nerdy FBI agent, and then he transforms himself into a hateful, mean, and undercover agent. This is truly one of his best performances. Nate shaves his head and dives into white nationalist literature, learning all of the passwords and half-secret codes he needs to pass for a fellow traveler, and inventing attributes (a fake military past, a knowledge of chemistry) that would make him a particularly attractive recruit.
With some movies like this, I can’t help but notice how racism is a part of the plot, but it doesn’t move the plot or story any further. With Imperium, these hate groups, their ugly racism, and hatred actually do enhance some elements in the story. Earlier I mentioned Gerry, and he seems the most troubled out of everyone. It’s his evil intent, racial hatred, and confusion that lead him to take crazy actions.
Imperium is a scary movie, because it chooses to show the horror in the real world. The film has excellent performances, and the tension never misses a beat. I no longer see Radcliffe as just the Harry Potter character. He was great in those movies, and he has continued to prove that he is great now, and will be great for years to follow. I would love to see this director cook up another movie, and have one more crack in the director’s chair.
I am giving Imperium a 4 out of 5 Hairpieces!