Helmed by first-time director and scribe Daniel Ragussis, Imperium shouldn’t work: star Daniel Radcliffe hasn’t had the best post-Potter roles, the film went straight to on-demand and reviews haven’t been glowing – but despite all this, it’s a surprisingly layered and gripping watch.
Based on the story of Michael German, Imperium follows Radcliffe’s Nate as he infiltrates a white supremacist group, Imperium portrays white supremacy in a manner only rivalled by the sublime American History X – there’s some truly hateful characters about, but the film displays these people from Nate’s point of view, humanising them to a degree. You grow surprisingly attached to these characters, anchored by great performances and a character-driven plot. At times, it’s jarring seeing these people commit racist and hateful acts, as they’re also given a more human side. By no means does it create a conflict as to whether they are right, but rather acts to deepen and enrich the world of the film.
The dynamic between Nate – as he becomes more embroiled in the group – and his FBI advisors is especially interesting. Imperium goes deeper than a typical undercover thriller and shows us a layer of selfishness and humanity behind these uniforms. Toni Collette stands out as Nate’s supervisor Angela, and although her performance isn’t anything too special, it’s the way her character is handled that makes it so nuanced.
One thing Imperium is great at is building tension – action is minimal, so even the smallest of encounters are hyperbolised to become moments of nail-biting drama. The film’s gripping climax is incredibly tense, and you’ll be entirely absorbed as the film draws to a close, in one of the most high-stakes conclusions in recent memory.
Of course, the star power of Radcliffe draws this all together – he commits excellently to his role and delivers a spectacular performance, made even more impressive when considering it as a reflection of his character’s role in the film – balancing two sides. You feel his pain when he’s forced to oblige with the white supremacists, and form a genuine attachment to the character throughout.
The script is at times muddled, bringing up plot threads only to drop them without
further reference, and the film has an unsatisfying final scene, that didn’t tie the plot up adequately. The script feels somewhat rushed: there’s vast development and world-building at the start, but when it tries to draw everything together it stumbles, either glossing over key characters or giving them unsatisfying resolutions.
Despite this, Imperium is a great time: my expectations were far surpassed. This was more layered, developed and human than anticipated, and tells a truly gripping story, assisted by some strong performances and nuanced character development. Muddled conclusion aside, Imperium is definitely worth a watch, if anything for the fascinating topics it handles and a terrific performance from Radcliffe.