"Did I leave the oven on?" © Lionsgate
“Did I leave the oven on?” © Lionsgate

Whenever I tell my friends that I’m about to review a movie, it’s usually something fun or a movie that they’re eager to watch themselves. This time around, not so much. It’s a little hard to explain to people why you’re watching a movie about neo-Nazis.

In Imperium, Daniel Radcliffe plays FBI agent Nate Thomas, who is tasked to infiltrate white supremacist groups in order to prevent an act of terrorism. Based on a story by Michael German, the real-life FBI agent who spent 20 months undercover among white supremacists and right-wing militants, Imperium plays out more like a by-the-book thriller than any sort of exploration of one of the darkest corners of human society.

As a thriller, Imperium is a little formulaic, but still makes for some gripping cinema. Ostensibly, it feeds into the deep-seated fears of decent society that this is what America might look like if Trump were to win the election (ugh, just typing that out gives me the hives).

"Step any closer and I'll Avada Kedavra you into smithereens." © Lionsgate
“Step any closer and I’ll Avada Kedavra you into smithereens.” © Lionsgate

But while the issues it brings up are timely, it doesn’t dive deep enough to contribute anything to the discussion.There is nothing subtle about this movie, including its depiction of the white supremacist movement in the US. The types of attitudes and beliefs portrayed here deeply disturbed me, and the sad thing is that these are only the whitewashed (pun intended) Hollywood versions of the movement.

This is writer and director Daniel Ragussis’s debut foray into film, and while it’s a promising start, it’s a bit of a shame that more wasn’t done with the subject matter. It’s not a bad job for a first-time director with a low budget, but there needs to be more nuance. In fact, the only nuance I saw came from Radcliffe’s facial expressions,which we see plenty of thanks to the lingering shots of his side profile and close ups.

It’s a little unbelievable that white supremacists would believe Nate’s cover story. Why does no one question his credentials? Three years serving in Iraq and he looks that scrawny? With no tattoos? Did he just charm his way into the organisations with his winsome smile and dedication to the cause?

© Lionsgate
© Lionsgate

But what bothered me most is that the portrayal of the supremacists seems a bit too simplistic. There is no real comment or exploration of the kinds of influences that produce people like them, and they just seem like normal people who read some books with ideas they agreed with. This is a sentiment that is telegraphed all too obviously and awkwardly in one scene, and even if this is the reality, it’s potentially dangerous (and maybe a little irresponsible) to only show one particular manifestation of white supremacists to the mainstream public.

Radcliffe’s choice of projects as an actor post-Hogwarts has been idiosyncratic, but they have all been very different. I applaud his audacity in choosing non-conventional roles, but I hope he gets a good, meaty role in a period drama soon. That said, he turns in a solid performance here as someone who does horrible things in order to help the good guys. I’m usually very sensitive to Brit actors putting on an American accent, but Racliffe is nigh-on impeccable in this regard.

Toni Collette is good, if a little one-dimensional, as Nate’s handler Agent Zamparo. I am also SO GLAD that there is no love interest here at all – it is the last thing that the movie needs. I was also pleased to see Burn Gorman in this movie, because as most long-time fans know, whenever Burn Gorman turns up, you know shit is about to go down.

Imperium is simplistic, but like the movie’s characters keep repeating, it does get a message across. It still remains to be seen whether it’ll have any lasting impact either as a movie or as social commentary.

Imperium opens in Singapore tomorrow. Tell us what you think of the movie!