Release: 7th November 2016
Format: BR / DVD / DGTL
Inspired by real events and the experiences of ex-FBI agent Michael German, IMPERIUM follows Nate Foster, an idealistic young FBI agent who is selected to go undercover amongst a group of white supremacists, suspected of initiating a terrorist plot. Immersed in a deeply unsettling, hate-filled world, Nate must fight to maintain control of his own beliefs and principles whilst working to identify the threat and keeping his true identity and motives a secret.
To say that 2016 has been “varied” for Daniel Radcliffe, would be an understatement. The former child star has so far enjoyed the spoils of being in some absolute drivel (Now You See Me 2), playing a farting corpse (Swiss Army Man), and here in Imperium, as an undercover FBI agent who infiltrates the Neo-Nazi movement. Clearly, Mr. Potter has accio’d himself an eclectic post-Hogwarts career.
Imperium is the passion project of first time feature director Daniel Ragussis, and it feels like a solid debut; if not a rather traditionalist one. Don’t believe the comparisons, this is no American History X 2.0. Ragussis is firmly in the camp of police procedural with his intimate tale of Nate Foster’s woe, as he traverses the sheer cliff of insanity and contradiction that is the militant far-right. But what does make Imperium a little different from the norm is that this organisation is not just spiteful skinheads beating down on Vietnamese shop owners, gay couples or African American homeless people, instead the complexity of such an organisation is explored more fully. As Nate scratches the surface of his assigned fascist targets, there is a quick realisation that Nazism is a series of organisations – intellectuals, brutes and media moguls – who fight and argue amongst themselves; all the while mixing and altering doctrine to suit their own ends. It is one of the film’s more engaging facets, and leads to a lot of highly engaging tension throughout the movie. One of the most heartbreaking though, is seeing Nate ‘become’ a racist in an effort to save his own skin.
Radcliffe’s Nate is also a keen example of Imperium’s more mature ambitions. The most obvious comparison is Jodie Foster’s Clarice Starling in Silence of the Lambs, as Nate (a nerdy, be-speckled book worm) is thrown deep undercover into the most physically and emotionally aggressive terrorist organisations in American history. This is a very psychological journey, and is fraught with danger as we see that Nate is constantly struggling to stay afloat in a sea of overeager jackboots. Thank goodness then for the likes of Sam Trammell and Tracy Letts as the film’s academic malevolence and oily snake, respectively, to offer differing flavours to Nate’s experiences.
There is no mistaking Imperium as any form of ideological exploration or out and out hate mail to a new world Hitler youth, but it does take time to build on the various philosophies that drive these men and women. The end result is that this complicates Nate’s mission as he sees human beings beyond the despicable tirades and Nazi salutes. Radcliffe gives so much gravitas to the role that you genuinely believe his smarts, his emotional connections and even his growing animosity towards the establishment that he serves. With a stomach churning final act that remains true to Nate’s character, you genuinely feel grateful for the work these undercover agents do.
Imperium is, for the most part, unconventional in plot yet conservative in execution. Efforts are made to avoid high concept developments, but every emotional beat is played as loud as can be. It doesn’t feel as grimy as Romper Stomper or as depressing as Made In Britain, but there is definitely a sense that this is a world no sensible human being would want to inhabit. Given a weaker hand or a lesser performance, Imperium might have been a blistering disappointment. Instead, it is a flourish of independent cinema that proves more accessible than any ultranationalist drama you might have seen, but just as powerful.
Film Grade: B-
Two short videos hold up the special features. Making Imperium is less about the actual making of the movie and more about the thought process behind its inception. There are some interesting talking heads, but it would have been nice to see a little more.
Living Undercover, meanwhile, is just some footage pinched and refashioned for the previous doc.
Special Features Grade: D
Imperium is a cracking little movie that has more fire on screen than in its belly, but still proves for tense viewing. Shame the features all but fritter away.