Well, we’re officially done with the summer movie season and Oscar season is just around the corner. But before we get there, we have to go through pre-Oscar season. It’s a season filled with wannabe Oscar movies mixed in with the wannabe Summer Blockbusters. It’s a mixed bag of quality, sometimes you get a few surprises but typically it’s a trial to get through. When I saw the trailer for Imperium a few months back, I had written it off as a wannabe Oscar film. That being said, I like to be fair and give films a chance, so I decided to sit down and give it a shot. Is it an early surprise or another wannabe? Let’s take a look at Imperium.
Inspired by real events, FBI agent Nate Foster (Daniel Radcliffe) has to go undercover to infiltrate a local White Supremacist group. He must climb the ranks to take down their radical leaders who plan to incite a race war.
First off, this movie was an absolute surprise. Right off the bat I need to give props to writer/director Daniel Ragussis, who gives his feature-length debut with this film. Director Daniel Ragussis manages to create constant edge-of-your-seat tension. He’s also great with directing actors, getting incredibly believable performances out of everybody. There are moments here and there that feel a bit stagey, but for the most part the film is very engaging. That’s something else that shocked me, just how engaging this film is, it’s something that really sucks you in. For a film that’s essentially Point Break or The Fast and The Furious with all of the exciting action taken out, I found myself genuinely engaged in the story.
Part of what engages you is the constant feeling of terror throughout. When Radcliffe’s character finally begins his undercover work, from the get-go you feel uneasy. There’s one moment in particular where a character explains what a “necktie” is and it’s one of the most fucked up things that I’ve ever heard. The undercover cop story is something that’s been done a lot before, but this film is unique in just how uneasy they manage to make you feel the whole way through. Every time it seems like someone is about to find out Radcliffe, you find yourself hanging on to every frame. There were a number of times throughout the whole film where I just had to take a deep breath because I was in constant tension the entire runtime, which never felt slow. For film that was an hour and 45 minutes, it felt like it was just an hour.
Although much of this film’s strong suits are in the tension and compelling drama created by Ragussis, a lot of this film is carried by it’s actors–namely Radcliffe. When the film began, I wasn’t digging his performance, specifically his bad American accent, but all of that changes when he’s finally sent out into the field. When he finally leaves the office and begins going undercover, he is given the responsibility of carrying the film and does it admirably. Even though the accent bothered me at first, when Radcliffe finally gets comfortable in the role it turns into the best performance he’s ever given. I’ve always liked him, but this was the first time that he’s proven that he can really be an actor. With range. Radcliffe isn’t the only great performance here though, much of the supporting cast help carry the compelling dialogue given to them. Toni Colette is easily the best here that she’s been in a while, showing more range than I’ve seen her give in some time. Even your minor characters like Nestor Carbonell as one of Radcliffe’s superiors at the FBI, or even Sam Trammell as an unconventional White Supremacist make huge impacts despite their small screen time. This is just one of those films where you can feel that everyone involved gives a shit, so they’re giving it their all.
If there’s anything wrong with this film, it’s the first twenty minutes. Before Radcliffe’s character is sent into the field and we set up his backstory, it’s all pretty dull. Toni Colette is really the only thing that carries the first act of the film, because Radcliffe is fighting that accent the whole time. It’s all kind of meandering and dull, although it picks up at the beginning of the second act. It’s something that hurts the film, but it doesn’t ruin it. Yeah, it’s a boring chunk of film to get through, but the rest of the film more than delivers.