It’s very rare that I have something genuinely nice to say about somebody, but I must admit that I have a lot of respect for Daniel Radcliffe. The Potter franchise set him up for life, and it would’ve been the easiest thing in the world for him to eat lunch off those paychecks for the rest of his life. Instead he has made a concerted effort to detach himself from that franchise and actually find interesting and diverse roles. And his role in this film is pretty much exactly that, because I’ve been trying to link boy wizards with undercover feds posing as white supremacists by the most wild tangents and I’ve come up with nothing.
Imperium had a very limited theatrical release, never even making it to this side of the Atlantic. This was probably for the best for, what with recent US political events, the film could easily be construed as a bleak look into the near-future of that country. Daniel Radcliffe plays Nate Foster, a squeaky-clean FBI agent who is sent undercover as white supremacist to try and track down some missing radiological material. His search leads him to various groups of differing methodologies, all of which are united under the core principle of white power. The tension generated in this film is nothing short of sphincter-tightening. Emphasis on minor details, from Nate’s clothing to his false backstory, is used to create some truly gripping cat-and-mouse dialogue, and in practically every conversation he is within inches of being discovered. The acting in this is second to none, particularly from Radcliffe himself, whose affected racial-bigotry is disturbingly convincing in places, and the supporting cast, from the bureaucratic feds to the hate-filled skin-heads, all do an excellent job of bringing their characters to life.
The only criticism I could potentially bring to this film is that it’s almost too good. There are many socio-political nuances and themes that go almost unnoticed because you’re too tense from all the drama. The threat in the film works on different levels, with the skinhead thugs being just the facade under which a cabal of white-collar family men play their game of revolution. This is particularly evident within the character of Gerry Conway, the well-educated engineer and family man played by Sam Trammell (you know, the bloke from True Blood), whose mild manners and non-violent facade make him considerably more dangerous than the shaven-headed tattooed meat-heads who we initially consider the main antagonists. There’s a clever use of social media here too, with the talk-radio host Dallas Wolf using his influence to bring the various militias and groups together and whom Nate attempts to pump for information with the promise of expansion. It’s one of the scarier elements, because one can easily imagine such a pundit existing today.
All in all, Imperium is doomed to be an underappreciated gem, because apparently Lionsgate don’t know a good thing when they see one. The acting is superb, the plot riveting and the drama pants-wettingly tense in places. If you can get over the terrifying prescience that this film portrays then it is definitely worth your time, if only for the sole reason of seeing Daniel Radcliffe shouting racial obscenities with shockingly convincing vitriol, and the multiple layers of intrigue might even evoke a second viewing. I’m going to have to give it a few weeks mind. It’s not often you see Harry Potter throw up a salute and shout ‘Sieg Heil‘.