While it certainly doesn't match the intensity of Russell Crowe in Romper Stomper (1992). Edward Norton in American History X (1998) or Ryan Gosling in The Believer (2001) - movies all set within the same world - it is undoubtedly Radcliffe's finest performance. When we first meet his character, Nate Foster, he is bespectacled and brown- suited, taking a literal back-seat as the Bureau successfully entrap a suspected terrorist. We then see what he can offer, speaking fluently in Arabic and using his people skills to settle the suspect down enough to talk. With caesium-137 on the loose and Middle Easterners the target, Nate's boss Angela Zamparo (Toni Collette) feels the FBI have forgotten that threats also lurk from within, and turns her focus instead to a white supremacist hate group.
Many of the Imperium's best moments are the scenes between Nate and Zamparo, and Collette makes the most of what is a relatively straight-forward role. We also get an idea as to why Nate, someone who is bullied by his colleagues, is the perfect man to go undercover and try to work his way into the inner-factions of the group. He is quiet, mild-mannered and spends most of his time outside of work on his own, but he is also highly intelligent, observant and, most importantly, victimised. While the many skin- heads Nate encounters are indeed burly and terrifying, they all share a sense of misguided victimhood, channelling their frustration and hatred towards a country they feel has betrayed them. Nate may not share their views, but he can empathise on an emotional level, which makes him a perfect fit to feel somewhat at home in such surroundings.
Director Daniel Ragussis, here making his feature debut, hints at a more interesting film than he manages to deliver. It touches on the inner psyche of these hateful people, and offers some shocking facts about America's dealings with terrorism, and just how much of it has come from white people. However, Ragussis's desire to tell a neat- and-tidy story means that Imperium never rises above routine thriller territory. A few key scenes in which Nate feels the wall closing in on him are very well done, and the script-writing input of Michael German, a former FBI undercover agent turned best-selling author, adds a feel of authenticity. I would also like to highlight the terrific performances of Chris Sullivan and Tracy Letts, the latter stealing every scene he's in as radio hate preacher Dallas Wolf. Imperium is a solidly-made, well-acted film that sadly doesn't strive to be anything more than an exciting thriller.