Imperium not only sideswipes you with its opening liberal quotation, but then sits you in the back of a car with Harry Potter dressed as an FBI agent. He waits nervously for a white van to deliver a suicide bomber. Is this how a famous wizard keeps himself incognito these days? This surreal incarnation of Hogwarts’ favourite son is Nate Foster, a bookish, Bureau virgin who relates to terrorist outsiders as human beings because he was marginalised himself as a youth.
The diminutive Nate looks like a kid dressed up to go to work with his dad, or a mole with reading glasses and a sprayed on fringe that could be hiding that scar. No one takes Nate seriously as his field craft was nothing short of disastrous when training in Quantico. That doesn’t stop him being recruited by Angela Zamparo (Toni Collette at her cock-sure best) who sees beyond Nate’s physical deficiencies and through to his ferocious intellect. Zamparo wants him deep undercover to expose Dallas Wolf, (the rebellious playwright, Tracy Letts) a right wing shock jock, slinging racist hatred through his book; Genocide: The Murder of White America who she thinks is planning a dirty bomb attack.
Zamparo is adamant the real terrorist threat is the white supremacists and not Islamic extremists, “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.” Nate’s entire generation seem to have forgotten Timothy McVeigh and the Oklahoma City bombing, caught up in the post 9/11 rhetoric that has fuelled Trump’s fire, Black Lives Matter and a rise in KKK membership. If only those survivalist compounds contained millions of barrels of oil perhaps shock and awe wouldn’t have had to go so far afield.
Imperium doesn’t want you to forget those homegrown atrocities. Director Daniel Ragussis bombards you with several montage sequences of Neo-Nazis that land like the mortar shells fired on The White House by Earl Turner, the fictional narrator of The Turner Diaries, a far-right novel acting as guidebook for McVeigh and other white domestic terrorists. Of course, to fit into this Aryan Disneyland (boy they love to dress up) Nate shaves his head. He looks like a baby vulture fallen far from its nest, defending itself from other, bigger vultures with SS tattoos emblazoned on their necks and DMs strangled tight over their talons. Physically, he’s out of his league, mentally he dwarfs them all.
As Nate trips the light fantastic between the competing Nazi groups, a morbid fascination grows with every near miss of his cover being blown. How will Harry cope without his powers? How will Nate out-muscle the muscle? How will Daniel Radcliffe maintain his American accent? Don’t worry. Radcliffe and his alter egos are inspired; the wizard shaped albatross around his slender neck swoops the audience up in the triple empathy of a young man breaking free from all conventions. When Nate blinds one Nazi group with his superior knowledge of the safety procedures at a firing range we totally buy it. They need Nate to be a decorated war hero as much as we need Daniel Radcliffe to be great as Nate Foster.
Daniel Ragussis’ debut film has seized the zeitgeist of Obama’s twilight months in office. When Obama was elected in 2008 the real story wasn’t America’s first black president but rather how America would react to their first black president and who would succeed him. The dreadful, quasi civil war that rages in the lead up to the next presidential election says it all. In Imperium the chillingly urbane and erudite racist Gerry Conway explains to Nate how working in Africa radicalized him, “If you ever have any doubt white men created civilization, take a look at how they live.” Ragussis undermines Conway’s argument with a bleak selection of colonial art depicting genocide.
Let’s hope it’s enough to thwart Trump and his white-supremacist cronies.