Monday, 24 April 2017
Based on the experiences of FBI agent Michael German, Imperium stars Daniel Radcliffe in another of his I-must-get-away-from-this-fucking-boy-wizard-tag roles. This time, he's Nate Foster, an intelligent and empathetic Ivy League FBI agent whose knack for interpersonal skills places him on the radar of the experienced and perpetually gum-chewing undercover handler Angela Zamparo, played by Toni Collette. Recruiting him to infiltrate white supremacists who are likely to mastermind Timothy McVeigh-style, dirty bomb planting terrorist acts, Nate is soon shaven-headed and bomber-jacketed, mingling with the local Neo-Nazis who have caught her eye.
On the whole, Imperium does well to avoid the usual identity-crisis plot development that so often prefigures the undercover cop drama, but it does have Nate forging some kind of kinship (predictably) with one of the more intelligent and sophisticated targets he is set to take down, which puts the film on the usual path to cliche. This familiarity would be less of a problem where Imperium's overall style and elan in terms of production and storytelling better than it actually is, but there's an air of cheapness that is all too pervasive here that ultimately sinks this well-intentioned effort and leads me to consider that as several TV productions have explored this kind of narrative more successfully, TV might have been this production's more natural home. Where Imperium excels is in its frank depiction of what may be called the accessible face of fascism; polite, family friendly BBQ's serving as an uncomfortably domesticated and recognisable alternative to the usual KKK gatherings - though the film will resort to speeded up archive footage of Nazis and white supremacist groups to signpost in the most laboured fashion that, y'know, racism is bad.
It's worth pointing out that Radcliffe does rather well in his central role. Arguably, his keen and somewhat greenhorn FBI agent is more convincing than his alter-ego of the committed fascist, but I think that's deliberate as the film is keen to tip the wink that this is a committed FBI agent who is somewhat out of his depth on occasion. It would be easy to place the blame for Imperium's disappointment at Radcliffe's door, but it would - to my mind at least - be unfair, and I speak as someone who has never seen a Harry Potter film and considers the viewing of them as a personal kind of hell. However the film has no defence whatsover for wasting the talents of the charismatic and talented Toni Collette, and it is too her credit that some of that natural charisma shines through even though little more than looking sassy in an FBI baseball cap, chewing gum and tossing How To Win Friends and Influence People at Radcliffe is all that is required of her.