“They need men of action, like you. Like me.”
If you want to remove your clean cut look in Hollywood, then a grimy thriller is definitely the way to do it. The nicer your previous characters were, the worse your next film has to be. And seeing as 2013’s Horns didn’t seem to land all that well, Daniel Radcliffe is going all kinds of hardcore to kick off his Harry Potter look. Ladies and gentlemen, children of all ages, I present to you, Harry Potter vs the Nazis.
Nate Foster (Radcliffe) is a young, idealistic FBI agent. He’s got a way with people and knows how to talk to criminals to get the most out of them. This skill grabs the attention of Agent Zamparo (Toni Colette) who convinces him that the tried and tested ways of staring at certain religious groups isn’t the way to catch the worst terrorists; looking at more domestic white supremacists is likely to be more fruitful.
Putting aside his suit and glasses and lacing up his boots after shaving his head, Foster finds an in with the local skinheads and works his way into the murky depths of the Hitler worshiping awfulness that is this group. Using a cover that includes a military background and a medical supplies company, the undercover agent is able to convince the Nazis that he can help them in their plans. But the young agent has to work to not only bring down the Arian collective he’s found himself a part of, but to also keep his head straight in a game that’s stacked against him.
Nazis, as an antagonist, are a very easy target for films like this – rightly so, they’re cunts – but where my issue begins and pretty much ends with this film is that no real development is given to these skinheads. You could literally drop Radcliffe into any bad-guy group and get the same result.
Ok, so he does try, and the writer (Michael German) and director (Daniel Ragussis) have done a little research to make it look like work went into the young agent’s infiltration, but I just don’t believe it. Instead of digging, just a little, into the reasons these guys do what they do, instead of looking at their motivations; the filmmakers simply trot out a few of the more well known Nazi/skinhead stereotypes and more or less leave it at that.
That’s not to say it’s not a good film. Far from it. I actually really quite enjoyed my time with Imperium, but it needed just a little more. You can’t substitute character development and good film making for an extremely famous goody-goody actor screaming racial slurs and throwing Nazi salutes and expect us to not notice how shallow your film is.
Imperium does do plenty right though. Most obviously in Radcliffe’s role. Going from comedically floppy hair to tattooed skinhead is one of the most drastic transformations I’ve seen in a while. Like I previously mentioned, he is pretty believable once he starts having to spout propaganda to keep his cover intact and there is plenty about his performance to like.
Tension (when it’s there) is decent and you are a little worried about the impressionable agent’s wellbeing. Sadly, it doesn’t dig deep enough into the “what if you spend too long undercover” thing that you expect it to. While no real time indicator is there, his rise through the ranks is too quick to be just a few days and anything more would affect your psyche, no doubt.
Overall, Imperium is safe and by-the-numbers. It feels like it has more than a passing acquaintance with 20 year old football hooligan film ID and if I was to give a recommendation, it’d be to go watch the ultra-violent British thriller first, just so you see what I mean.