Daniel Ragussis’ Imperium hits theaters during a volatile period for American politics (like, more than usual), where blow-hard politicians want to shut down borders and aggressively profile minorities in the name of domestic safety. Yet, Ragussis’ feature debut promotes an idea of inward thinking, and explores embedded threats we’ve since turned a blind eye to.
Terrorism has been so racially defined that we’ve allowed corrupt congregations to exist right under our noses. This is Ragussis’ American History X in that regard, by way of infiltrating the expansive circles of white supremacy that often go overlooked. Motivated, Aryan-first brotherhoods who hope to cleanse America of filthy diversity – otherwise known as “White genocide.” International terrorism poses a real, dangerous threat, but that doesn’t erase the threats sitting right in our backyard.
Strap on your suspenders and start stretching your salutin’ arm, because this is one gut-punch of radical devotion.
Daniel Radcliffe stars as gung-ho FBI Agent Nate Foster, who’s mostly relegated to transcribing flagged emails until Agent Angela Zamparo (Toni Collette) offers him a more engaging opportunity. Most agents look to typical stereotypes when it comes to homeland security, but when dangerous chemicals are smuggled into DC territory, Zamparo points towards white-power brotherhoods.
Her idea is to send Foster undercover as an ex-militant looking to help the cause – something the eager, young agent has no experience in. But, the thought of busting a huge case is enough to pull Foster in, and before long, he’s hobnobbing with skindheads and Neo-Nazis. Gone is Nate Foster, mild-mannered FBI brainiac, only leaving Nathan, the boot-stompin’ patriot America needs (depending on who you believe).
First and foremost, Imperium is horrifying. Not because Daniel Ragussis (with the help of Michael German, whose true stories are brought to life) creates any bloody, racist violence, but because the “White Power” movement is shown with such charismatic, Bible-like rationale.
Radcliffe’s character leads us into the belly of the beast, where we meet stereotypical punk-loving, bald bigots – but also lawyers, schoolteachers and lawmen who chit-chat at docile BBQs. A whole different type of supremacist is uncovered, one who owns a suburban dream home, and serves Martha-Stewart-recipe cupcakes with Swastika frosting designs. Hatred comes in so many forms, which works to broaden Ragussis’ focus on domestic terrorism in the most unlikely of places.
It should surprise no-one that Radcliffe – as Nate Foster – immerses himself in the world of white supremacy, succeeding as an undercover agent, fearmonger and conflicted professional. As Nate, he’s ambitious and socially awkward, but always intriguing as a hustling go-getter. As Nathan, he’s a tough-as-nails WMD specialist who talks a big game, recites hateful literature and embraces the world around him with Zionist-bashing enthusiasm.
Radcliffe does a phenomenal job balancing all the conflicting fears in his head, and comes across as a stone-cold badass despite obvious bouts of skittishness. Hot on the heals of “Farting Dead Corpse Radcliffe” is “Undercover Racist Intellectual Radcliffe,” who may be my favorite Radcliffe evolution thus far.
Yet, this isn’t solely the actor’s show. All the power-monsters are equally well-cast. Whether it’s Sam Trammell as an All-American father who builds treehouses for his children in case the “mud-people” attack, Chris Sullivan as the burly brickhouse militant in full Gestapo gear or Pawel Szajda as the anarchistic punk-rocking thug, variety proves that there’s not one single definition of a “white supremacist.”
Trammell’s character listens to classical orchestral pieces while sipping Chamomile tea, while Szajda’s cronies threaten interracial couples at knife-point. Our immediate judgement leads us to believe that those who jump quickest are most likely to act, but Ragussis’s greatest accomplishment is playing with all the conflicting personalities within such an assumed characterization of hatred. Actor Tracy Letts drags us into the world of hate-speech as online radio host Dallas Wolf, who is only the tip of a much wider, bottom-heavy iceberg. And my, what an experience it is to watch Radcliffe realize just how big that hulking iceberg actually is…
Credit Imperium for being a dramatized exposé based on an undercover agent’s harrowing experiences, lifted – but not carried – by a camera-thirsty Daniel Radcliffe. Be it his drunken passenger-seat banter with Toni Collette or one of his many near-death cover slips, Radcliffe works as an enigmatic guide through a white supremacy culture we assumed was much simpler, and not as well-articulated. Radcliffe’s mission alone provides drama and thrills, but A+ involvement from Mr. “Harry Potter Who?” makes this suspenseful crime/espionage hybrid a gritty bout of homegrown hellishness. The power of American History X meets The Departed – not a bad start to Daniel Ragussis’ career.
Think American History X meets The Departed, featuring another impassioned performance from one of the greatest young actors of our time, Daniel Radcliffe.