Connect with us

Disc Reviews

Imperium | Blu-ray Review

Imperium Blu-ray ReviewMoving further away from his Harry Potter persona with a trio of three immensely dissimilar films in 2016, actor Daniel Radcliffe’s anxiety laced performance in Imperium as an FBI agent going undercover to infiltrate a neo Nazi faction received a demure theatrical release. Quietly unleashed by Lionsgate in late August with a simultaneous VOD stream, this based-on-a-true-story thriller from first time helmer Daniel Rasgussis received fairly positive critiques, if mostly for a committed performance from Radcliffe. Exploring similar territory to many such treatments portraying the consequences and pressures of these particular occupational hazards (as far as thrills go, it isn’t any meatier than Brad Furman’s 80s set The Infiltrator, which reached theaters a month prior), the film is a solid debut allowing its lead performer the opportunity to stretch out into dramatic territory.

Likely to draw immediate comparison to formidable items such as The Believer and American History X, films featuring names like Ryan Gosling and Edward Norton in intense performances early on in their careers, Radcliffe’s presence feels unprecedented enough to allow this examination to stand out. While not nearly as emotionally draining or powerfully commanding as the references it courts, the film is a solidly efficient thriller which manages to stubbornly spell out its subtexts on the attraction of fascism for troubled white youths. At a time when race relations are still violently parsed throughout a nation hindered by a troubling brew of political correctness, increased ignorance regarding systemic racism, and the continued lack of understanding or acceptance for anything or one existing outside the white, heteronormative majority, several aggressive moments in the film are granted a more chilling dimension thanks to continuing topicalities dominating media headlines.

Nate Foster (Radcliffe) is an idealistic FBI agent who is quickly disillusioned with his job after tailing a would-be terrorist only to discover he’s more an ignorant victim instead of a criminal mastermind. Approached by co-worker Agent Angela Zamparo (Toni Collette), Foster is convinced to go undercover as a skinhead to infiltrate a right-wing terrorist group, a dangerous group flying under the radar, although their white supremacist ideology has systematically and historically caused more homegrown unrest than anyone would like to address or realize. Attempting to retain a semblance of his own values, Nate decides to take the plunge, which results in some realizations about who he is as well as who can be readily defined as an enemy of the state.

Ragussis makes worthwhile use of Radcliffe as a sensitive overachiever, a lover of classical music who is socially awkward (he reads Thomas Hardy over a glass of expensive wine most buy for special occasions, as indicated by the reaction of a liquor store employee whose race later provides the film with its most potent snippet of anguish) and wishes nothing more than to make a difference—but in the right way. As his gum-chewing foil (a character related smoking tic which sometimes feels distracting because it seems the performer has little else to work with), Collette is brashly believable, and one gets the sense something more useful could have been done with her had their agency been the thrust of the narrative.

Instead, Imperium is intent with providing despicable episodes of atrociously ignorant behavior from the moronic victims cum perpetrators representative of the low-hangers making up skin head factions. This results in either compelling or middle brow soapboxing, but there’s pulpy entertainment to be had courtesy of an insidiousness personality played by Tracy Letts’ (the playwright appearing, once again, in formidably fine form) radio personality Dallas Wolf.

A less persuasive rendering is the milquetoast suburbanite with a taste for music (who confesses an admiration for Leonard Bernstein) played by Sam Trammel, a characterization comparatively less interesting, and suspiciously coded as a harbinger of latent homosexual tension. Although obvious in its implications, Imperium effectively establishes a sense of menace and dismay, made more empathetic by Radcliffe’s underdog (although more could have been deliberated about his internal struggle, seeing as he’s a white social misfit specifically chosen because of how he can assume the believable persona and empathize so readily with Fascist inclined bigots). Because of this mixture of tip-toeing vs. the sobering realities in the script’s obvious proselytizing, Rasgussis’ film works best during its build-up sequences, when it hints or promises at greater reveals and more complicated possibilities, with budget constrained law enforcement agencies strapped for cash as they wage invisible wars with pockets of subversive criminalities existing all around us.

Disc Review:

Lionsgate releases the title on Blu-ray in 2.40:1 with 5.1 DTS-HD master audio. Picture and sound quality are solid, though its presentation feels about as unenthusiastic as the title’s initial theatrical release. Director Daniel Rasgussis and writer Michael German provide optional commentary, while extra features are also included.

Living Undercover Featurette:
This brief three minute slot finds writer Michael German discussing the experiences of an undercover agent and how it informed the screenplay, while Radcliffe is on hand to explain his approach to playing the character.

Making Imperium:
This eighteen minute segment features Rasgussis, Radcliffe, and several other principals (excluding Toni Collette) discussing their thoughts on the film, characterization, etc.

Cast/Crew Interviews:
Director Daniel Rasgussis and star Daniel Radcliffe appear at The Time Center in this near half hour conversation

Final Thoughts:

Interesting but not nearly as remarkable as the material would seem to warrant, Imperium provides Radcliffe an unexpectedly alluring lead performance while also making an effort to provide audiences with the basic machinations behind Fascism (and watch for a timely performance from Tracy Letts as a charlatan in the vein of a Donald Trump-like opportunist).

Film Review: ★★★/☆☆☆☆☆
Disc Review: ★★★/☆☆☆☆☆

Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2021: France (Bruno Dumont), Passing (Rebecca Hall) and Nightmare Alley (Guillermo Del Toro). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

Click to comment

More in Disc Reviews

To Top