In Imperium, Daniel Radcliffe’s FBI agent Nate Foster traces some Caesium-137 (a deadly substance used in dirty bombs) to Hopewell, Virginia. Radcliffe’s transformation from nerdy analyst who gently gets through to a jihadist, to race-baiting skin head is exemplary acting. But this is not for the faint of heart – and Harry Potter fans will mourn more than the loss of Radcliffe’s bangs.
As a Methodist pastor in Hopewell, where the film was shot at several locales, I was compelled to watch the film. But the verbal violence here is … nasty. The film opens with “words build bridges into unexplored regions,” a quote from Adolf Hitler. And the film’s emphasis in Daniel Raguissis’ directorial debut (of his own screenplay) is on the violence of words, of propaganda, of misshapen past hurts and proposed future discrimination. This film was honestly sickening to listen to – even as I grasped onto the hope that Foster might save people from the violence of a bomb, and even ‘convert’ some of the skinheads from their cause.
Of all of the violent, white supremacists on screen, Sam Trammell’s depiction of Gerry Conway, a well-dressed, intelligent father of two is the one which struck me as the most scary. Seconds before and after commenting on the way that society threatens his children’s future with its drinking, cussing, and carrying on, he’s promoting racism and violence … in his children. It’s almost enough to make you throw up.
But it’s a reminder that over and over again, our violence and prejudice and tainted views of the world are passed down to our children again and again. The evil that the fathers perpetuate is passed to their children casually, spiritually, organically.
And then there’s the even more troubling element for me is the blatant use of the Hebrew and Christian Scripture by the neo-Nazis. It’s a sickening reminder that the words of God can be twisted and changed to reflect something intensely evil. Tied into the scripture and the plot is one more reminder, too: while we might be convinced that there are evils other than us, specifically tied within the Islamic faith, there’s plenty to recognize when we look in the mirror and see the evil in us.
Well acted, terrifying, exciting, and dynamic, Imperium is more than an entertaining film. It’s a reminder of what we all can be if we let the spark of someone’s rage ignite the hurt in us. One word, one spark, one blaze. Sometimes, that’s all it takes.
Or you can be the cool breath of the One who first breathed into us, and allow that negative spark to be … blown out.
Imperium is now available on Blu-ray, DVD, and Digital HD from Lionsgate, with several special features available. Included is commentary from the writer (and director) Daniel Ragussis and writer Michael German about their story, as well as a feature on “Living Undercover.” Fans of the film will appreciate the ‘background’ provided in those features, in the interviews with cast and crew, and the “Making Imperium” feature.