In his grittiest role to date, Daniel Radcliffe has us on the edge of our seats in Imperium, a thriller about a zealous FBI agent who goes undercover as a white supremacist to unearth terrorist plots.
Sporting a convincing American accent, a buzz cut and all buffed up, it’s easy to forget that Radcliffe was the same little boy wizard we saw growing up onscreen. Imperium shows us a very different side of Radcliffe, and with it, the British actor manages to shed any last bit of Harry Potter left on him.
Radcliffe plays a young idealistic FBI agent Nate Foster, who was first sent to follow a trail on a possible jihadist terrorist, but was disappointed when the lead turned out to be a dud. However, his actions in the failed sting effort attracted the attention of his superior, Angela Zamparo (Toni Collette), who recruited him to be a mole in her next operation- to find out if an extremist white nationalistic group is building a dirty bomb. Just like that, Foster goes the whole nine yards to infiltrate into the enemy environment. Physically transforming himself by shaving his head, getting tattoos and speaking their language, Foster initially struggles with his principles while trying to fit into the shady world of white supremacy. The whole process proves to be an arduous journey, with Foster being almost found out on multiple occasions, but he manages to stay calm and get out of one precarious situation after another. It’s the audiences that are left with heart palpitations and sweaty palms from all that risky encounters.
Inspired by real events, Imperium is reminiscent of American History X (Edward Norton), but not as hard-core that it eliminates audiences unfamiliar with this radical group. Real-life FBI agent Michael German co-write the script based on events that he’s been through, and his story gives us a peek into the lives of white supremacy and their extreme views. Director Daniel Ragussis, in his debut feature, manages to create a consistent pace and builds tension upon tension that Radcliffe artfully brings out.
Radcliffe delivers a stellar performance. Foster’s transformation into an extremist is laudable, we see him initially uncomfortable with not just his physical changes, but with the moral-compromising acts he has to witness and carry out. However, as time goes by, Foster becomes more and more at ease; he walks with an effortless swagger, easily makes skinhead friends and penetrates deeper into the racist underworld. Matching his solid acting is Toni Collette; as his superior, her role is somewhat of a cliché but Collette makes it her own.
Overall, Imperium is a well-paced, well-acted movie that shows us a side of terrorism we don’t normally see.
Oh, and if you're wondering what Imperium means, here’s the definition:
"Imperium" is Latin but is commonly used in German, meaning "empire", and is synonymous with the German word "Reich", although never in the context of the German Empire ("das deutsche Kaiserreich") or the Third Reich ("das dritte Reich"). However, English-speaking Neo-Nazis frequently refer to a "Western Imperium" as a theoretical future global empire following their political and philosophical views.