Domestic Terrorism is a subject that, while less sexy when it comes to some filmmakers, is still as vital as those threats that come from abroad. In a summer where Jason Bourne turned the spy game into something abysmally boring, Imperium is the type of film that takes the diametrically opposed approach and gets it right in spades.
Nate Foster (Daniel Radcliffe) has been given his most important assignment in his time as an FBI agent: he must infiltrate the world of domestic extremists, in hopes of thwarting an impending terror attack. His prime suspect is a high-profile talk radio personality (Tracy Letts), and his new friends include hoodlums and soldiers alike, all dedicated to the cause. The longer he stays undercover, the greater the chance there is that Nate will be discovered, and with a frustrated handler (Toni Collette) struggling against bureaucratic interference, this may not be a mission he'll be able to complete.
Imperium doesn't belong on in limited release or on VOD at the end of the summer, as it's a shining example of how to do a terrorism drama right. With a big focus on Nate's eventual "transformation" into a double agent, as well as his battle to maintain cover when under, the film relies on Daniel Radcliffe's performance to drive the film's story. As usual, Radcliffe delivers, putting on a performance that will definitely shock those who still see him as Harry Potter, but will continue to impress those who have stuck with him through films like Horns or Swiss Army Man.
Interesting enough, Imperium doesn't go as hard as a film of its subject matter could, which is both a blessing and a curse. While the film doesn't go out of its way to shock people with racial violence or invective, it does opt for a more interesting route, by showcasing charismatic evil alongside your standard brutish figures. Rather than paint all white supremacists as hateful people, Daniel Ragussis' directorial debut allows some of his characters to challenge our notions of what a bigot looks like, and nowhere does he do so more effectively than with the character of Gerry, played expertly by Sam Trammell.
Trammell's performance lulls both Daniel Radcliffe's Nate, as well as the audience, into this web of domesticity. Here is a man who still believes in the cause of the Aryan nation, but still enjoys fine classical music, and spends time with his family as a loving father and husband. It's through the humanization of such a mindset that Ragussis scares the audience more than any cheap shock tactics could. It's through the acknowledgement that vile thoughts and deeds can be carried out by people who are otherwise upright citizens that sets Imperium apart from films that opt for a simple black and white approach.
While Imperium does throw in some last minute twists in order to ramp up the film's resolution, it doesn't derail the work that's been laid down in the preceding two acts. That doesn't excuse a slightly rushed ending, but instead draws attention to how good the film is on the whole. Considering Imperium is Daniel Ragussis' first feature film as a writer and director, this is not only forgiven, it's also a sign that his career in both fields is off to an extremely promising start.
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