***WARNING: MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS***
British actor Daniel Radcliffe plays an FBI agent who goes undercover with white supremacists and for the most part he does a good job. It’s just that his American accent occasionally slips and his short stature affects his credibility as his character’s undercover alter ego. Clearly, this lack of credibility is only obvious to the viewer, because on screen, Radcliffe’s character Nate has no trouble fitting in with various groups of neo-Nazis and appears to infiltrate with comfortable ease and at remarkable speed, deflecting any tension with wit and intelligence. Hopping from one racist clique to the next, Nate is always the smartest in a room full of white guys; he has an answer to every question and an explanation in response to any doubt raised. If it wasn’t for all the other white blokes being so thick, no doubt his cover would have been blown faster than you can shout ‘White Power.’
Meanwhile, Radcliffe’s Australian co-star Toni Collette‘s American accent is better than his, but her problem in this film is that she seems to parody rather than just play an FBI supervisor. In Wittertainment parlance, it’s a performance turned up to eleventy stupid. The less said about it, the better.
The most believable acting performance in Imperium comes courtesy of Tracy Letts. By the time we learn the truth about the radio presenter he plays in this film, I sincerely wonder how many broadcasters, columnists and other professional opinion-givers in the real world have built their careers on a similar earning model to that of the fictional Dallas Wolf. It makes sense. He makes sense. Letts’ convincing performance is let down, however, by how poorly his part has been written into the plot; it’s a storyline that might have worked better before internet radio and podcasting blurred state lines and country borders, but I’m not sure it stands up in 2016.
Taking cues from American History X and The Firm —the one with Gary Oldman, not the one with Tom Cruise— only illustrates how good those films were and how not-very-good Imperium is. Moreover, unless my memory is deceiving me, there’s one specific scene early on that I feel I’ve seen before, at the end of I.D.:
What, if anything, did I learn from this film? Two things. Firstly, that going undercover doesn’t require FBI training or experience; reading Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People should suffice. Secondly, once you pretend to be a white supremacist, you will no longer need your glasses; then, when you stop pretending to be a white supremacist, you will need your glasses again. (Mind you, with a frame as ill-fitting as Nate Foster‘s, I doubt glasses are of much use in the first place — he must have been peering at the rim more than through the actual lenses.)
Imperium is currently on limited release in UK cinemas and available to stream from We Are Colony and Amazon Prime (other options or services may be available) For a proper film review, I refer you to Mark Kermode’s one here.