Imperium (2016)

  • Time: 109 min
  • Genre: Crime | Drama | Thriller
  • Director: Daniel Ragussis
  • Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Toni Collette, Burn Gorman, Tracy Letts


Idealistic FBI agent Nate Foster goes undercover to take down a radical white supremacy terrorist group. The up-and-coming analyst must confront the challenge of sticking to a new identity while maintaining his real principles as he navigates the dangerous underworld of white supremacy.

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  • “We see what we want to see,” Toni Collette’s Angela Zamparo tells Daniel Radcliffe’s fresh-faced FBI recruit Nate Foster in Imperium, “but just because you’re not looking at something doesn’t mean it’s not there.” Indeed, with all the perpetual fear-mongering about terrorists, it bears reminding that terrorists can come in all forms and colours and that it is often the homegrown who are overlooked and can wreak the greatest havoc.

    Angela enlists Nate to go undercover and infiltrate a local group of white nationalists who may be planning some sort of attack on the nation’s capital. Nate isn’t entirely certain that he’s the right person for the assignment – he’s a buttoned-up, physically unimposing, classical music-loving brainiac who is teased by his colleagues – but Angela, having witnessed his empathetic interrogation of a jihadist terrorist suspect, convinces him that being undercover is nothing more than exercising people skills and controlling the situation. Determined to prove his value to the organisation, Nate agrees, shaving off his head, assuming the identity of an Iraq War veteran now running a medical supply company whose access to radioactive materials might attract the attention of their targets.

    Nate gets in tight with with several neo-Nazi groups, whose affinities to one another are tenuous at best, but all of whom may get him closer to Dallas Wolf (a terrific Tracy Letts), the popular hate-spewing radio host (“Diversity is a code word…and what it means is white genocide.”) who may possess vital information about the imminent dirty bomb attack. Writer-director Daniel Ragussis, loosely basing the narrative on ex-FBI agent Michael German’s accounts, skillfully delineates the differences between the factions. There are the hot-headed skinheads (Pawel Szajda, Seth Numrich, Devin Druid) whose stupidity is marginally outweighed by their belligerence; the Aryan Brotherhood, far better organised and well-armed with legally acquired weaponry; the ridiculously nerdy Klansmen whose idea of an ideal wedding backdrop involves burning swastikas.

    Then there is Gerry (Sam Trammell, excellent), a clean-living family man who worries about the next generation of Aryans who are ruining themselves with alcohol, cigarettes, and bad language. Nate bonds with Gerry over their shared love of music but is well aware that Gerry, despite his polite and soft-spoken exterior, is just as dangerous, perhaps even more so, than the rest of his pugnacious and blustering brethren.

    As with the likes of The Departed and Donnie Brasco, Imperium focuses its narrative on the minefield that its central character is constantly navigating. A drive to a camping site is made tense by the Aryan Brotherhood’s leader (a very fine Chris Sullivan) wondering how to prevent infiltrators. Even more frightening is the scene where he attempts to dissuade his fellow skinheads from attacking an interracial couple, first by leading the charge himself in the hopes of scaring the couple off and then setting off an alarm before any blood is shed. Radcliffe delivers his best performance to date, ably conveying Nate’s fear and desperation as well as his cunning and resourcefulness. Ragussis doesn’t always mine the story’s more complex corners – the brotherhood accept Nate more readily than his FBI colleagues which, coupled with his intrinsic empathy and rapport with Gerry, might have deepened the conflict and suspense – but Radcliffe hints at those complexities in his portrayal and impresses from start to finish.

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