It’s always nice when a child actor is able to avoid falling into hard times and hard drugs and actually make a name for themselves as an adult. It’s even better when you think that actor is going to be known for his most famous role for the rest of his life, and then he breaks that mold, too. When that actor is Daniel Radcliffe pretending to be a Neo-Nazi, you know it’s not one to miss. In Imperium, Radcliffe plays idealistic FBI agent Nate Foster, who is tasked with going undercover to infiltrate a Neo-Nazi gang that may be plotting a terrorist attack. As he gets deeper and deeper, it begins to affect his psyche more and more.

Daniel Radcliffe is the highlight of the entire film. Playing a role where one has to go undercover and become a completely different person offers a host of challenges, but Radcliffe convincingly pulls it off. He can go from meek and mild, to scared and afraid, to commanding and intimidating, all in a matter of seconds. The incredibly well written character gives him a lot to work with, so he can really show off his range. The dichotomy with how acts to his FBI superiors compared to his faux Neo-Nazi pals is a lot of fun to watch, especially as his madness descends further. There are many intense moments throughout, and that’s mostly due to Radcliffe’s commanding performance. You absolutely believe everything that’s happening. The rest of the cast is good, too, but a lot of their characters weren’t as fleshed out, or as interesting as the lead.

The direction and editing are fantastic, immediately immersing you within the film. Grainy old stock footage of KKK members burning crosses and holding rallies is shown alongside photos of Neo-Nazi marches and terrorist attacks, painting a very terrifying picture. The way it’s presented is very chilling and almost comes off as some sort of horrific documentary. Unfortunately, some of that stuff did feel like it was laid on a little too thick. Subtlety certainly wasn’t this movie’s goal, but for it was going for, it mostly worked. Luckily, there are a lot of confident directing and editing decisions that really enhance the intensity of a lot of sequences, especially near the end. The movie plays it very smart with no ridiculous gun battles, explosions, or anything like that. Not that those are bad things, but this isn’t the kind of film for that. They also handle the Neo-Nazi characters very well, actually making them like normal human beings, instead of ridiculous caricatures. In the hands of lesser talent, this all could have been a mess.

As much as I was immersed the entire time, I was also feeling like I wanted more. The film was too quickly paced, as it takes place over a few months (I think, it’s not exactly clear), yet everything feels like it happens so quickly. A lot of the plot progression feels rushed and some things come off as a bit too easy to our protagonist. There are also some very interesting story moments that I would have liked to see expanded upon, but they never do. For the kind of story they were trying to tell, it really could have used some more breathing room in some places. A mini-series, or something to that effect, would have been great.

Imperfections aside, Imperium was still a solid, entertaining thriller. Anchored by a magnetic central performance, Daniel Radcliffe shows here that he’s an actor to be reckoned with and if he plays his cards right, he’ll have a long and fruitful career ahead of him. He’s no longer “just Harry Potter,” to me anymore. Hopefully, he keeps getting material like this to challenge him and we get more films like this, in general. It’s been a while since I’ve seen a smart thriller that relies on smartly built tension with good characters, instead of mindless action. Nice to see, once in a while.


PSA: This film is available to stream on Amazon Video for $6.99. Yes, you read that right! An original, independent film that you can support from the comfort of your own home, just like I did! Check it out!

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