Imperium (15) | Close-Up Film Review

Dir. Daniel Ragussis, US, 2016, 106 mins

Cast:  Daniel Radcliffe, Toni Collette, Tracy Letts

Radcliffe plays Nate, an intelligence analyst with the FBI, who is sent undercover in  middle America to foil a white supremacist terrorist plot.   Collette is Angela, FBI case agent and his control and contact in the bureau.

Which sounds like a good idea for what should have been a gripping thriller.  Despite that however and some good actors it fails to either grip or thrill.  And the fault is with the script and the story telling.

For a start there is little suspense in the film – we should be fearing Nate’s discovery all the way through and we’re not. The racist yobs such as Roy (Seth Numrich), with whom he first makes contact as he attempts to infiltrate the organisation, never appear bright or suspicious enough for there to be any danger of his cover being blown. There is also little in the way of interesting relationships or conflict.  For example one of the men he encounters as he starts to become a trusted member of the group is Gerry (Sam Trammell), an otherwise likeable and respectable suburban family man.  It’s a relationship that could have been developed to good effect in order to present Nate with an internal conflict, as for example Johnny Depp’s character experienced with Al Pacino in “Donnie Darko” or Debra Winger did in “Betrayed”, where she is an FBI agent investigating white supremacist Tom Berenger and falls in love with him.

No offence to Radcliffe’s performance but he isn’t well cast.  He is convincing in the early scenes as the rather geeky and intellectual Middle East analyst but when he goes undercover, posing as a tough ex marine, even with a bit of bulking up at the gym, a brutal haircut and tattoos, he still looks like a nice boy.  He also gets little help from the script, which gives the character little background and depth, which could have made him more interesting.   His wearing of spectacles is also inconsistent.  He wears them as Nate as the beginning and end of the film but not when undercover.   So did Nate wear contact lenses in his white supremacist role?  This could have been an area where he is nearly exposed.  Toni Colette as his control is also given little to work with.  All we learn about her in a passing remark is that she is a mother.  Again there is no texture to her character or her relationship with Nate.

Tracy Letts is a fine actor but even he can’t make his role of a white supremacist radio shock jock convincing.  He is far too easily duped by Nate’s offer of sponsorship and the final explanation of his character is glib and unconvincing – even though in real life it might be true.

And that may be where the script problem lies, in that the film is based on the experiences of real life FBI agent, Mike German.  The film makers claim that “Ragussis intended to create a film that accurately depicts the work of undercover FBI agents and forgoes sensationalistic Hollywood stereotypes regarding law enforcement. Instead, the film highlights the extensive research and preparation process undercover agents must undertake.”   Perhaps the film stuck too closely to the often prosaic truth? That though is the province of documentary film.  Fiction isn’t bald truth.  It has to get below the facts to find the human fears and motivation.  Mike German and his colleagues wouldn’t have put their personal feelings and conflicts into their FBI reports but it is up to the screenwriter to use his/her imagination to flesh out the human side of a situation and characters. And that is what the film fails to do.

The actors are in this are all good though. They are just not given the opportunities they need from the script to make their characters convincing and interesting.

Review by Carol Allen