If you were to line up every young male actor working today, and were asked to select one to play an FBI agent who infiltrates the terrifyingly prominent Neo-Nazi subculture, chances are mild-mannered, 5’5” Daniel Radcliffe wouldn’t be your first (or even 67th) choice. Similarly, you more than likely aren’t nonchalantly talented Imperium writer/director Daniel Ragussis. What on paper sounds like an extended Saturday Night Live sketch gone badly wrong, (Radcliffe looks about as much a skinhead as he does a Ford Focus), quickly reveals itself as a palm-sweating, excruciatingly tense thriller with all the muscular intelligence and emotional insight of the most serious of dramas. Imperium is perfect middle-brow, Friday night viewing, packaged in a palpably angry wake-up call for today’s damning political climate.
Imperium is perfect middle-brow, Friday night viewing, packaged in a palpably angry wake-up call for today’s damning political climate.
Radcliffe is Nate Foster, a rookie agent forced to hit the ground running when he’s assigned to Angela Zamparo’s (a delightfully uncompromising Toni Collette) domestic terrorist investigation. Initially embedding himself with the thuggish, liberally tattooed brutes typically associated with the movement, Nate quickly realises the threat lies somewhere closer to home, but infinitely more sinister. The tough-talking reprobates who introduce him to the group are little more than disenfranchised kids in desperate need of an avenue in which to vent their persecution complex. The serpent beneath the bushes comes in the form of homely, erudite academic Gerry Conway, played with fierce determination and cunning wit by True Blood alumni Sam Trammell. A distinctly warm presence, family man Gerry explains his outrageous views with remarkable matter-of-fact confidence to the tune of classical Brahms compositions. His wife bakes swastika-iced cupcakes for the local ruffians beside their robotic, disturbingly brainwashed children. They’re a perfect PTA family, dead set on cataclysmic, apocalyptic race war. You know, the usual.
Ragussis makes a stellar debut, ratcheting up the tension from the first frame to the last.
Ragussis’ risky casting pays heavy dividends; this is a shining moment in Radcliffe’s already-extraordinary career. An odd comparison point at first, but one can’t help but see something of Swiss Army Man’s farting corpse Manny in the hopelessly out-of-his-depth Nate. So much of each performance relies on what Radcliffe doesn’t show, rather than hackneyed histrionics; a mean feat for any actor. If nothing else, Imperium confirms Radcliffe as one of the most ambitious, exciting and truly talented actors working today. Able support is gifted from a diverse range of promising young actors, newcomer Devin Druid in particular captures the toxic victim mentality that births such hateful rhetoric with the soulful elegance of a performer twice his age.
Ragussis makes a stellar debut, ratcheting up the tension from the first frame to the last. His sure eye for discordant character interplay, alongside a terrifically layered screenplay, renders Imperium one of the most prescient, timely and chillingly powerful thrillers of the year. A rushed third act forces the (literally) bombastic denouement with little rhyme or reason, and a handful of dialogue stages fall straight down the exposition rabbit hole, but there’s more than enough directorial brilliance on display to mark Ragussis as a filmmaker to watch for years to come. Imperium may lack the subtlety of the similarly-themed American History X or the underrated The Believer, but with the rise of the far-right approaching reality every day, this feels like an essential film for Trump’s America, and a superbly structured thriller for everyone else.
Quickly reveals itself as a palm-sweating, excruciatingly tense thriller with all the muscular intelligence and emotional insight of the most serious of dramas.