'Imperium': Film Review

Radcliffe stretches his acting muscles in a suspenseful if familiar-feeling thriller.

Daniel Radcliffe plays an FBI agent infiltrating a white supremacist organization in Daniel Ragussis' debut feature.

With his starring turn in Daniel Ragussis' debut feature about a young FBI agent infiltrating a white-supremacist organization, Daniel Radcliffe continues his mission of shedding every vestige of his most famous screen character. Bringing us the startling sight of the British actor sporting a shaved head and spewing racial hatred, Imperium traffics in familiar undercover cop thriller conventions while gaining resonance from its disturbing, timely milieu.

Based on the real-life experiences of former FBI agent Michael German (who's given story credit), the thriller opens with fresh-faced agent Nate Foster (Radcliffe) getting assigned to go undercover in a neo-Nazi organization suspected of planning a dirty bomb terrorist attack. The organization's figurehead is Dallas Wolf (Tracy Letts), a popular, hate-spouting radio talk show personality and author of Genocide: The Murder of White America.

As with its many similarly themed predecessors (the most recent being the Bryan Cranston-starrer The Infiltrator), Imperium wrings most of its suspense from its central character's efforts to convince the bad guys that he's indeed one of them. While the boyish Nate would seem an unlikely choice for such a dangerous assignment, the actor's lack of imposing physicality only increases the tension, with his character continually forced to rely on his wits and resourcefulness to evade detection. In one scene, Nate tries to prevent his fellow skinheads from physically harming a mixed-race couple. In another, he yells racial epithets to a black friend who spots him marching in a neo-Nazi parade. In this and other instances, Radcliffe conveys a fearful desperation that makes you fear for his character's safety.

Ragussis' screenplay features many pungent dramatic moments as Nate interacts with white supremacists who rant about the "Jew tax" paid to rabbis for blessing food in grocery stores or sneer at his "Jew jeans" Levi's. At least one of the bigots proves surprising, however. Gerry (Sam Trammell), one of the group's members with whom Nate gets particularly close, admits that he listens to the recordings of Leonard Bernstein. "He's a great conductor," Gerry points out. "Jews listen to Wagner, don't they?"

Nate's charged interactions with the deceptively soft-spoken, wily Wolf provide some of the film's juiciest scenes. Letts (who delivers an Oscar-caliber performance in the recently released Indignation), proves yet again that he's become one of our most magnetic supporting actors. Toni Collette also delivers a solid supporting turn as Nate's FBI supervisor.

Still, it's Radcliffe, sporting an impeccable American accent, who carries the film on his slim shoulders. Revealing the same career adventurousness seen in such recent bold choices as Swiss Army Man and the off-Broadway play Privacy, the young actor is very effectively putting his Harry Potter days behind him.

Production: Atomic Features, Green-Light International, Grindstone Entertainment Group, Sculptor Media, Tycor International Film Company

Distributor: Lionsgate Premiere

Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Toni Collette, Tracy Letts, Sam Trammell, Nestor Carbonell, Chris Sullivan, Seth Numrich, Pawel Szajda

Director/screenwriter: Daniel Ragussis

Producers: Ty Walker, Simon Taufique, Dennis Lee, Daniel Ragussis

Executive producers: Warren T. Goz, Eric Gold, Jeff Elliott, Chad Moore, Andrew Mann, Lauren Selig, Barry Brooker, Stan Wertlieb, Thomas Whiteman, John Osborne, Caroline Michael Osborne

Director of photography: Bobby Bukowski

Production designer: Kristen Adams

Editor: Sara Corrigan

Costume designer: Amy Andrews Harrell

Composer: Will Bates

Casting: Susan Shopmaker, Lois Drabkin, Matthew Lessall

Rated R, 109 min.