Imperium review

Imperium is a dark drama about an undercover FBI investigator who needs to hide his true self beneath an assumed identity in order to survive.

Similarly, Daniel Radcliffe is a talented young actor who is keen to make you forget about his long years as the world’s number one boy wizard. If his turn as a farting corpse in Swiss Army Man hasn’t already banished those lingering notions of Quidditch from your mind, maybe his deceptively passive portrayal of bookish nerd turned faux-Nazi skinhead Nate Foster will do the trick.

Nate is a quiet type, who doesn’t seem to fit in at the FBI. While his colleagues are gamely skirting the edges of entrapment in order to make a collar, he’s the one on the fringes asking awkward questions. It takes the drive of fellow fed Angela Zamparo (Toni Collette) to spur him into more ambitious, and more dangerous, direction.

On the trail of a suspected dirty bomb plot, Nate embeds himself within a loose network of affiliated neo-Nazi groups, any one of which would happily off him if they suspected his true identity. It’s a tense couple of hours, made tenser by Will Bates’s oppressive, atonal, underscore. The music may be mixed a shade loud, but it’s powerfully effective.

The focus is on the investigation rather than the action. Nate isn’t the kind of cop who draws his gun, he’s the kind that draws the truth out of his suspects with quiet empathy.

Now that we’re living in the golden age of television, with shows like The Wire and Breaking Bad unpacking stories like this and letting characters and subtle motivations breathe, it seems almost wasteful to clatter through this claustrophobic, involving tale in under a couple of hours.

The script, by director Daniel Ragussis and documentary-maker Michael German, betrays this compression occasionally, with one character introduced just to help a certain plot point happen after which he is never mentioned again.

It’s a strong story though, and an important subject: home-grown right-wing extremists are as much of a danger to US citizens as their better-publicised jihadist counterparts. In case you weren’t sure about that fact, Ragussis keeps splicing in hallucinatory montages of the Nuremberg Rallies cross-cut with Ku Klux Klan rallies and scenes of general racist boneheadedness.

Maybe the first of those montage sequences were worthwhile, but the rest seemed a touch unnecessary to me. Pretty much everyone knows that racists are ghastly dimwits, and the few misguided individuals that don’t know that aren’t likely to be spending their movie ticket money on Imperium.

It’s a good movie, with decent performances, especially from Collette, and a solid point to make. It’s released as a video on demand title, as well as in cinemas, this week and it’s on that platform that I think it’ll do best. Good as it is, thoughtful as it is, timely as it is, there’s just not quite enough about it that demands a big-screen experience.

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Michael Moran is a Screenjabber contributor

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