Reeling it in: Led by Radcliffe, acting carries ‘Imperium’

“Imperium”

Lionsgate Premiere

1 hour, 49 minutes

 

Daniel Radcliffe is turning out to be a far more interesting actor than you might have guessed back in 2001 when he burst on to the scene as “the boy who lived.”

Admittedly, Radcliffe beat out all the other 10-year-olds vying to play Harry Potter, but I’m not sure how much of that was about talent and how much was about how much he looked like the kid in the illustrations. Pop a pair of round specs and a fake lightning bolt scar on his head and you’re good to go.

Then again, Radcliffe spent his formative years studying under the likes of Maggie Smith, Richard Harris, Michael Gambon, and Alan Rickman, so maybe it’s no wonder he’s blossoming into such a varied actor. Since the “Potter” series ended, Radcliffe has starred on stage in the bizarre horse mutilation tale “Equus,” played a man slowly turning into the devil in “Horns,” and portrayed a flatulent corpse opposite Paul Dano in “Swiss Army Man.”

This week I watched his latest film, “Imperium,” otherwise known as “Harry Potter and the Order of Terrifying Neo-Nazis.”

“Imperium,” loosely based on actual events, tells the sorry of Nate Foster, an unassuming junior-level FBI agent who ends up infiltrating one of the scariest sub-groups in America. When a truck containing radioactive waste crashes on the interstate, the FBI becomes convinced that a terrorist cell inside the U.S. is planning to unleash a dirty bomb on a populated area. Though the top brass is focused on Islamic radicals, senior agent Angela Zamparo is convinced that the deed is actually going to be carried out by white supremacists.

Nate, who has great people skills but little else, is the perfect guy to go in, infiltrate, and expose the plot. He’s unassuming, smart, and is excellent at getting people to open up — skills that will come in far handier than prowess with either a gun or his fists.

I liked “Imperium” a lot, though it’s more about the acting than about the story. The plot tends to meander some and the third act, even with it’s climactic scene is a little underwhelming. But Radcliffe really sells it. Playing two roles, essentially, Radcliffe is equally good as the frail, nervous agent and the confident, angry Supremacist. Nate goes from one organization to the next, embedding himself farther up the food chain.

When he finally meets Gerry Conway, however, he discovers that the entire issue isn’t as clear cut as he thought. Gerry has kids, a devoted wife, and an easy-going way about him. The most chilling scenes are those that involve the children. Proudly showing Nate the treehouse their daddy built, he is thrust back into reality by their explanation: “You have to be ready, all the time, in case the Mud People come.” Yikes.

The acting is uniformly great across the board — though with Radcliffe leading the pack. His Nate, at the beginning of the film, shows no signs of being able to defend himself, but by the end of the movie, he looks legitimately scary.

Toni Collete, who plays Zamporo, has little to do, but is good at that little.

One actor I was particularly impressed with is Pawel Szajda, who plays Vincent. Szajda imbues a competence that his skin-head cronies lack.

Unfortunately, his is only one of the loose threads left hanging at the end. I wish the film, already taking liberties with the truth, had been able add just a little more drama, just a little more action — but the movie feels real, at least. It doesn’t feel like a Hollywood-ized version of events, but rather a simple retelling.

Grade: B+

“Imperium” is rated R for language and some violence.

 

Chris Jenness is a freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.

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