Imperium (2016) Review
Director(s): Daniel Ragussis
Writer(s): Daniel Ragussis, Michael German
Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Toni Collette, Tracy Letts, Devin Druid, Pawel Szajda, Nestor Carbonell, Sam Trammell
Plot: Suspecting white supremacist cells of having a dangerous radioactive material in their possession, Angela Zamparo (Toni Collette) of the FBI persuades newbie field agent Nate Foster (Daniel Radcliffe) to go undercover in an attempt to stop a possible domestic terrorist attack.
Review: A boilerplate thriller that follows the genre beats methodically, right down to the “Am I compromised?” fake-outs, Imperium isn’t something that hasn’t been done before. Sharing striking similarities to Scorsese’s The Departed (2006) – Toni Collette being the Martin Sheen to Daniel Radcliffe being the Leonardo DiCaprio in this example –, whilst touching on similar themes to American History X (1998), the film is a relatively sophomore effort by newcomer director, Daniel Ragussis, as he directs and co-writes Imperium, with the story being credited to Michael German.
Despite the attempt to tackle the topic of white supremacy – in America –, the film skims the surface of what is possible with the screenplay. Where American History X was a character study of its skinhead lead, Imperium fumbles on why it exists. Is the film a study on white supremacist groups? Is it about the greenhorn FBI agent that is plunged into a racist, sexist, and xenophobic setting? Or, is it a commentary on the societal climate of America? Imperium has no idea. The film takes everything on, its grip gradually slipping as the film progresses, until the film completely drops the ball in the end. For a film that spends an extended amount of time showcasing the feats of Olympic-level mental gymnastics by the individuals Radcliffe’s Nate Foster comes into contact with, one would expect the film to have a satisfying conclusion, not something that ends on a cheery note that goes against the established tone.
Beyond its failings and genre trappings, Imperium is thankfully saved by its lead performance. Overshadowing even the experienced Collette, as she is resigned to a minor role that occasionally functions as a reminder that Foster is a federal agent, Radcliffe impressively carries the entire film. Adding yet another notch in his belt, and continuing his sporadic rise as a dramatic actor, Radcliffe delivers a nuanced performance, capturing a wide range of facades that was necessary to play the role of a young FBI agent in his first undercover stint that finds his resolve and morality tested. If Imperium is to be watched for any reason other than something to pass the time, it should be for Radcliffe’s performance.