Of all the kids that we have watched grow into young adults from the Harry Potter franchise, none have impressed me with their role choices more than Harry, himself, Daniel Radcliffe. He has been picking interesting and against-type roles. None has he been more invigorating as he has been than in Imperium, a crisply written and directed thriller partially (mostly) based on a a true story. Michael German was an undercover FBI agent who infiltrated the White Supremacy movement which was planning a series of huge terrorist attacks in the United States. The film deals with one in particular, that was targeting the water supply in and around Washington D.C. and Virginia.
The film opens with the young FBI agent, Nate Foster (Radcliffe) helping in the arrest of an Islamic terrorist who was planning to drive a van full of explosives into a government building in Washington D.C. Foster is a meek young man; bookish, multilingual, well educated but quiet. He is tormented by his fellow agents, but sparks interest in his superior, Angela Zamparo (Toni Collette) who starts to enlist him to go undercover with the local skinheads and see what kind of criminality they are up to. Anxious to get out of the office and get some real experience in the street, Foster agrees. What he finds tests his nerve and intelligence and almost takes his life. What Foster discovers is a long reaching network of the skinheads (punks and thugs; street “soldiers”) who reports to the Aryans (the wealthy and privileged) who do most the planning and foot the expenses.
Some of these people Foster becomes “friends” with start to trust him, but most of them are dubious and paranoid. They inspect his apartment, do extensive backround checks and even have their claws into law enforcement both on a local and federal level. It is downright chilling just how far their reach is. I had to keep reminding myself this was all based on real cases, which was even more frightening. Foster is able to find a common soul in the seemingly innocuous Gerry Conway (Sam Trammell from HBO’s True Blood). Gerry is kind, patient and seems to be pretty reasonable. Foster also manages to make a contact with a local radio personality Dallas Wolf (Tracy Letts) and the head of the local skinhead thugs, Andrew Blackwell (Chris Sullivan). The three of them separately are mostly all talk. But get two of them together and it is a disaster. The investigation seems to go nowhere for a while, but when Foster makes the right connections, he stumbles onto a real life catastrophe that could kill tens of thousands.
Imperium did not get much of a release in theaters. I had to track it down On Demand and it is also available on VUDU. It is worth every penny. This is a taut and nerve racking thriller with Radcliffe shining as Foster. He is smart and resourceful, but never loses sight of what he is and what his job is. Radcliffe commits to this role and features the best acting I have seen from him, yet. He is truly amazing. Toni Collette is also a hoot as his gum chewing boss, Angela. She has a quick sense of humor and a devilish smile. She, too, is smart and very knowledgeable of the criminal mind but has traded in the street for the desk because she is married and with children. You can tell Angela misses the street a little bit, but would not trade it for her family. Tracy Letts, Chris Sullivan and Sam Trammell all are very convincing as some of the worst people you could possibly associate with. Letts has a nice twist towards the end of the film which I will not spoil, but it works and is actually kind of humorous.
Writer and director Daniel Ragussis does a masterful job of creating real terror with these characters and we believe it because the script never overplays the material. It does not need to. This is only Daniel’s second film, but his first feature length film. The first film he wrote and directed was a short film called Haber, about Germany’s first and widely considered their best chemist, who also was Jewish. That film was released in 2008. With only two films under his belt, Daniel Ragussis has already distinguished himself as a serious filmmaker who can write and direct. He can sit along side other independent filmmakers like Jeff Nichols and Jeremy Saulnier with pride. These are three to watch for. Their attention to interesting characters, involving plots make it a joy to go to the movies. Fall On Your Sword band founder Will Bates, branches out into film score composing with a wonderfully subtle but chilling score that is extremely effective in enhancing the gravity of the plot for Imperium.
Imperium is a superb film from start to finish. It handles recycled plotlines with intelligence, real time terror and a freshness that brings out the best in the performers. This is a smart film; suspenseful but articulate and immensely satisfying. Kudos go out to everyone in Imperium, but a special nod to Daniel Radcliffe who is amassing quite an impressive resume of roles. The films might not be as good as he is in those films (most notably, he was the lone bright spot in the very disappointing Now You See Me 2), but he is showing that he has range and is willing to go where few have traveled. Imperium is his best performance and in one of the year’s best film. It is a hard to find film, but if you get the chance, it is worth it.
Imperium – ****3/4 out of 5
Imperium – Rated R for extreme language, racial slurs, violence and adult situations
Imperium – Run Time is 110 minutes
Imperium is playing in theaters but not that many. Your best bet is to catch it with On Demand, VUDU and Amazon On Demand. Since Movie Slackers is seen all over the world on the internet, check your local listings to see if it is playing in your city for times and locations.