(US - 2016)
Written and directed by Daniel Ragussis. Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Toni Collette, Tracy Letts, Sam Trammell, Nestor Carbonell, Burn Gorman, Chris Sullivan, Seth Numrich, Pawel Szajda, Devin Druid, Linc Hand, Adam Maier, Roger Yawson. (R, 108 mins)
It's hard not to be reminded of 1998's AMERICAN HISTORY X or 2002's THE BELIEVER while watching IMPERIUM. It's another chronicle of white supremacy, but while it provides insightful commentary on the nature of fascism, its primary concern is being a straightforward thriller. It's also yet another example of the changing nature of film distribution. Headlined by an actor known the world over, it's a sad commentary that a solid, crackerjack nail-biter like this is relegated to a few screens and a VOD dumping. It didn't cost much to make and it's not an offbeat art film. It's a smart movie that would've been a hit 10-15 years ago, and it's depressing that there's no place for IMPERIUM in today's blockbuster-obsessed, franchise-driven distribution model. It's also a very topical film considering the rhetoric of a major American political party's Presidential nominee, a man whose words and opinions have frequently been termed "fascist." IMPERIUM looks at the motivation behind fascism and what really drives it ("it's about looking for someone to blame"), and does so without being overtly political. There's no liberal vs. conservative soapboxing here, but it does provide a sometimes terrifying look inside the white supremacy culture, much like AMERICAN HISTORY X did. The stereotypes are there, but they don't always apply. White power meetings take place at suburban homes in IMPERIUM. The ugly rhetoric is discussed at backyard barbecues while children play, and where housewives bake cookies decorated with swastikas. These are people you know, and you don't know them at all.
Michael German, sometimes abandons key figures and plot points. It's stated that "a lot of these white supremacist guys are all talk," but as the true threat presents itself, we never see what happens to some of the others, and this is after Blackwell makes it quite clear something about Nate doesn't gel. But then we never see him again. The audience might also like to know more about the African-American protester at a white power rally who recognizes Nate and asks him what he's doing there (staying in character, Nate has to respond by shouting "Shut the fuck up, n----r!"), but we never see him again.
ARLINGTON ROAD or the little-seen UNTHINKABLE. The shift is smooth enough that it isn't awkward or a major disruption, but it's noticeable. And it still works. Though its antagonists differ, IMPERIUM actually has a lot in common with UNTHINKABLE, a terrific film that should've received more exposure than it got, but maybe that's the issue right there. It would be one thing if Radcliffe were paired up with, say, Bruce Willis in a quipping, mismatched buddy actioner about two FBI agents out to stop a white supremacist outfit...if they don't kill each other first! That's a film that would get a wide release. But think back to ARLINGTON ROAD's release being delayed for several months in 1999 because of the Columbine tragedy. 2010's UNTHINKABLE and now IMPERIUM are two smart yet multiplex-ready, commercial thrillers that take a completely serious and uncompromising approach to their subject. Maybe the potential for controversy is too much of a headache. Maybe movies like this just make studios uncomfortable. They wouldn't have 20 or 30 years ago. This is not to imply that IMPERIUM is some kind of classic or anything, but it is a good film that deserves a much better rollout than it's getting.