Daniel Radcliffe dives into yet another Harry Potter-erasing role in "Imperium," a chilling, surprisingly effective crime thriller involving white supremacy. It's a film and a topic that takes on extra resonance at this particular moment in American politics.
Inspired by the experiences of former FBI Special Agent Mike German, who receives story credit here, the movie tracks an earnest young federal agent, Nate Foster (Radcliffe), as he attempts to bring down a radical right-wing terrorist group based in Virginia.
Encouraged by his brash supervisor (an excellent Toni Collette), Nate shaves his head and goes undercover to infiltrate a crisscross of potentially lethal racists and neo-Nazis. These include a fiery talk show host (Tracy Letts), a suburban family man (Sam Trammell), an Aryan Alliance leader (Chris Sullivan) and an array of "soldiers" in the cause.
At first, Nate's immersive switch from bespectacled, classical music fan to tough-talking hatemonger can feel like a bit of a stretch; it would've been nice to see the agent doing more "homework." But once Nate convinces his prey he's one of them, things snowball in tense, gripping and disturbing ways. A wedding scene staged in front of a pair of blazing swastikas won't soon be forgotten.
Fine photography by veteran Bobby Bukowski and an impressively dimensional script by writer-director Daniel Ragussis help make this one a cut above.
MPAA Rating: R, for language throughout.
Running time: 1 hour, 49 minutes.
Playing: Laemmle Ahyra Fine Arts, Beverly Hills; MGN Five Star Cinema 10, Glendale; also on VOD