Imperium review: Daniel Radcliffe goes undercover to take down white supremacists in this impressive drama from writer/ director Daniel Ragussis.
Imperium review by Luke Ryan Baldock, September 2016.
Remember how films sometimes come in twos? Volcano and Dante’s Peak, Antz and A Bug’s Life, White House Down and Olympus Has Fallen. Well, just a week after Bryan Cranston went undercover to fight Columbian drug runners, now Daniel Radcliffe must go undercover to take down white supremacists. Radcliffe clearly has the greater task, despite shedding his boy wizard image (successfully so far), can we really see him as an American FBI agent pretending to be racist? Funnily enough, yes. Imperium fully cements Radcliffe as a force to be reckoned with, even if the film never goes above and beyond.
Radcliffe is Nate Foster, an ambitious FBI agent looking to make his break. After head of undercover operations, Angela Zamparo (Toni Collette), spots Foster reaching out to a terror suspect, she believes he will be perfect for her latest case. Ingredients for a bomb have gone missing and somehow a white supremacist podcaster, Dallas Wolf (Tracy Letts) seems to reference it on his show despite no formal information being released to the public. Suspecting Wolf, who has called for action, Foster must enter at the lower end of the spectrum, building confidence and relationships with those around him.
The enjoyment, if it can be called that, comes from seeing Foster adapt to a terrifying world. Unlike many other undercover cop films, Foster does not seem the right pick. He’s meek, a bit jittery and, if the other characters were any smarter, would have been found out very quickly. This makes his character more tragic, and Radcliffe captures that desperation. He pushes people too far, and tries to get out of the role as quickly as possible. It adds extra sympathy, even if he can become a bit frustrating at times.
The problem this presents is that we wonder whether the gangs he joins are completely stupid, or just poorly written. Foster is beyond suspicious at times, and makes leaps and bounds through the supremacist community. One aspect this does highlight, is the interesting friction between different types of racists. There are the heavily tattooed thugs, the happy family men, and the conspiracy nuts. Showing these different communities is fascinating, but Daniel Ragussis’s screenplay often doesn’t give them enough time to develop, or convince us of their acceptance of Foster. This is a time when perhaps a TV series would have done more justice.
As director however, Ragussis has brilliant command over tension and white knuckle moments. He makes us feel the dread and panic, before allowing us to exhale in relief when Foster escapes life threatening situations. It must also be said that Foster’s inner turmoil of wanting to convince certain members that their way of thinking is wrong, rather than just arresting them, is handled with maturity and gravitas.
By the time it all wraps up, it is clear that Imperium had a lot to say and needed more room to breathe. There are also moments which feel too heavy-handed, such as scene transitions flashing imagery of burning crucifixes and Nazis etc. that flash up to remind you of the evil these men can do. With enough talent on display, there is a lot of promise here. Ragussis’s debut is very impressive, and one he will hopefully learn from, while Radcliffe can hold his head up high as clearly having escaped the curse of the childhood actor.
Imperium review by Luke Ryan Baldock, September 2016
Imperium is released on the 23rd September.