Imperium is a serviceable potboiler backed by solid performances, but wastes the opportunity to become a timely insightful thriller about right-wing populism.

Nate Foster (Daniel Radcliffe), a young, idealistic FBI agent, goes undercover to take down a radical right-wing terrorist group. The bright up-and-coming analyst must confront the challenge of sticking to a new identity while maintaining his real principles as he navigates the dangerous underworld of white supremacy.

Daniel Radcliffe has been doing his best to leave the shadow of Harry Potter, which has led to some interesting choices.

In Imperium, he becomes an idealistic FBI agent turned undercover in a white supremacist movement.

The thriller poses interesting insights as the FBI deals with a potential bombing. The chief immediately points at Islamic groups for Jihad extremists while Agent Zamparo suggests that radical supremacist are more likely to be involved.

“We all create a narrative based on what we think is important.We see what we want to see. But just because you’re not looking at something… doesn’t mean it’s not there,” she quips while chewing on nicorettes. Under the right mindset and enough resources, anyone can blow up a train station regardless of their nationality. While America is so preoccupied with foreign threats, they overlook that domestic ones are equally dangerous.

Nate Foster agrees, and becomes an undercover agent due to his capability of empathizing with outcasts.

Daniel Radcliffe and the rest delivers a good performance. Sam Trammel provides an amusing dorky yet polite Klansman who deems that his experience in Kenya is proof that white men created civilization.  Unfortunately, they’re talents and the interesting insights laid out in the first half of the movie gets wasted as Imperium resumes as a straightforward potboiler.

The movie recycles familiar elements in similar movies – the encounter with a hapless interracial couple, a familiar face recognizing Nate in the crowd, and the least likely character to be the one who has the guts to do something.

The plot progresses as predictable thrillers go, with close calls highly dependent on Nate’s ability to bluff his way through every situation.

The director uses iconography in montages but reveals nothing about the characters. There is something to be said about how Nate is able to identify with the right-wing members and how this kind of movement attracts individuals like him who long for a sense of belongingness. Unfortunately, the movie does not delve into these reflections.

Radcliffe does his best and you can see that the life of an undercover agent is taking its toll, but he is miscast for a role that needs someone quiet yet intimidating. Personally I find it funny when he goes behind the wheels because his height is accentuated by the size of the truck.

The movie rushes towards the end, capping it off with a little introspection about victimhood and scapegoating, but these are underdeveloped tidbits.

Imperium is serviceable enough as a potboiler and Radcliffe is able to carry the movie, but as a story that has the potential to say something compelling given the current political climate in the US, it wasted the opportunity to become more than just your average thriller.

My Rating: 6/10