Saturday, August 20, 2016

Movie Review: IMPERIUM

Howdy fellow film freaks, Robert here. When you sit down to watch a movie like Imperium, which is about an FBI agent infiltrating a white supremacist movement under suspicion of plotting domestic terrorism, you come with certain preconceptions. Based on what I took away from the trailer for this film, I expected it to be 1998's American History X in reverse: instead of a committed white supremacist realizing the error of his ways, I expected a movie about a more or less normal white guy who falls in with a bunch of neo-Nazis and finds their hateful philosophy to his liking. This is because, as much as I love movies, I don't expect Hollywood to challenge popular opinion when it comes to politics. So I thought I would be sitting through yet another tired parable about how all white people are terrible racists whether they know it or not, and racism is a uniquely white scourge. But hey, at least I'd get to see Daniel Radcliffe make another attempt to escape Hogwarts. My glass was half full.

The story of Imperium is "inspired by real events", but given that the story deals with an FBI undercover operation, I expect any basis this movie's simple plot has in reality is loose at best. The movie mostly walks the line when it comes to the portrayal of white supremacists, but while most movies portray such people in shades of Floyd Poteet from Bad Boys II -- illiterate, unreconstructed rednecks who answer every challege with a slurred "We got our rights!" -- the most compelling thing about Imperium's racists is that they are educated. Not all of them, of course; the smallest fish are pure stereotype, shaven-headed leather-clad punks with tattoos on display, ready to spill non-white blood for the glorious whatever. But the leaders of the various organizations that Radcliffe encounters are pillars of the community, successful, personable people who can discuss music, art and literature at length. So point one for Imperium: the evil in this story is truly insidious; it is clean-cut, educated, well spoken and most importantly, friendly.

Which makes the moments when the film reminds you of the danger that Radcliffe is in all the more impactful. In one scene, Radcliffe is at a backyard cookout being held by one of the organizations' leaders. A little girl and boy are happily showing him their tree house, and then immediately start telling him how the tree house is their safe place for "when the mud people come." "Always be ready. Always be watchful," the little girl tells Radcliffe gravely. It's an unnerving scene, one of many. Between the charisma of the men at the top of the food chain and the pervasiveness of their twisted philosophy, Radcliffe is overwhelmed. "How do you reason with people like this?" he asks, on more than one occasion. But there's no answer to be had. People who think like this cannot be reasoned with, they must be fought. And so the investigation proceeds, and the plot is uncovered, and justice is served.

Which brings me to the second point for this movie. At the beginning I expected another lazy indictment of whites exclusive of all other groups; it's a very popular refrain online and in media these days, after all. Instead, Imperium speaks to us all with a warning that transcends groups: "There's really only one key ingredient to fascism," we're told as the movie ends. "Victimhood."

Every once in a while, a movie comes along with a message so important that I believe everyone should see it. This is one of those movies. After all, who isn't preaching victimhood in America today? Is there a group that doesn't believe it's getting the shaft from somewhere? Certainly both of our illustrious Presidential candidates are beating that drum loudly. But this is what I applaud most about Imperium: instead of taking the tack of so many other movies before and crying "up with Us, down with Them," Imperium instead encourages self-reflection, and the realization that fascism can come from any sector, if its population believes themselves to be victims deeply enough. One need only look as far as the hallowed halls of higher learning to see the truth of this.

Imperium knows how to blindside you; it's more whisper than shout, but you know it when it happens. This is a slow burn thriller with an important message that shouldn't be missed. And as for Daniel Radcliffe, I will never wonder again: Hogwarts is far behind him now.

Imperium is rated R for language throughout.

Robert's Score: 9/10

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