Director: Daniel Ragussis
Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Toni Collette, Tracy Letts, Devin Druid, Pawel Szajda, Nestor Carbonell, Sam Trammell
Plot: FBI agent Nate Foster (Radcliffe) is sent undercover as a neo-Nazi when it is suspected that a white supremacist group is plotting an attack.
Review: I’m not sure if its just me but I’m sure that the career paths of both Daniel Radcliffe and Elijah Wood if put side by side would pretty much match up with both coming to the attention of the general movie going public through blockbusters before moving into more indie productions and arguably producing some of the best work of their respective careers with Elijah Wood giving us the likes of “Grand Piano” and “Maniac” after the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy while Daniel Radcliffe only continues to make the Harry Potter years seem like a distant memory as he’s matured as an actor let alone showing the same kind of ballsy role picking with films like this and “Swiss Army Man” that helped Joseph Gordon Levitt become such a darling of the indie scene.
Of course when you think of Neo-Nazi’s I’m sure that Radcliffe’s name would be way down the list of potential actors but then that was one of the main things which drew me to this film, after all this is a the kind of role which has become synonymous with the performances given by the likes of Edward Norton and Russell Crowe as well as perhaps to a lesser extent Ryan Gosling. Yet somehow Radcliffe pulls off the role playing up the lack of believability to extraordinary effect.
Based on the career of former undercover FBI agent Michael German who wrote the script with director Daniel Raguissis who makes his feature debut with this film. German over the course of his career spent time undercover with both supremacists and right-wing militants which brings some legitimacy to the always dubious “Based on real events” title card the film opens with.
When Radcliffe’s FBI agent Foster is introduced during the arrest of a terrorist suspect were he is pushed to the background of the arrest while his superiors claim the credit for his work. At the same time Foster is shown as being something of an intellectual loner as he spends his evenings drinking expensive wine, listening to Brahm’s and sharing his meals with a book. However this seemingly makes him the perfect candidate for going undercover it would seem in the eyes of Agent Zamparo (Collette) who is investigating the involvement of white supremacist groups in the theft of caesium-137 which could be turned into a dirty bomb. The fact that Foster is such an unlikely candidate for undercover work, let alone to imitate a neo-nazi is seemingly what makes him perfect for such an operation seeing how many members of these organisations share a similar upbringing as Foster.
This idea that people’s direction in life being affected by their life experiences really plays an under lying theme throughout the film, before being highlighted again at the closing. At the same time the film equally suffers from going through the usual motions of these kinds of movies as we get the initial introduction to the hotheaded agitators while the elder figure making all the big claims turns out to be far from the person they claim to be. We do however get some interesting moments scattered throughout which do bring some unique aspects to the story such as a gathering being held in a quiet suberban neighbourhood hosted by white collar family man Gerry (Trammell) were the guest all seem like regular upstanding members of society despite the fact that one of the wives has brought Swastika topped cupcakes reminding the audience that not all supremacist look the same.
The character of Gerry is another cliché aspect to the story in which we get the Neo-Nazi who can justify his love of Jewish conductors or black music and its the kind of character who turns up time and time again and perhaps its down to the enjoyable performance given by Trammell that it wasn’t such an eye rolling cliché moment here. Gerry though provides for Foster one of the few seeming safe harbours when surrounded by members of the various groups threatening to reveal his true identity, while their shared interests and similar personalities make for a genuine friendship which leaves you wondering if he’s getting too involved with the people he’s supposed to be investigating.
Crafting a tightly plotted story there is little hanging around with the plot while the tension is kept high throughout as doubt is constantly being cast on the different aspects of his story. While Radcliffe might not seem like the most intimidating actor, here it really works to his advantage with the path they choose to take with his character so that you never get the feeling of implausibility like we got when Elijah Wood tried to play a football hooligan in the dire “Green Street”.
On the downside the final act feels kind of forced and rushed and really could have done with having more time to breathe than the sudden introduction of new conspirators to the plot, while Foster rushes around to defuse a dirty bomb plot. While it does have some tense moments such as trying to pass off fake chemicals, it just all needs more time to develop especially when the journey to this point has been so great its frustrating to see such a rushed climax.
A fantastic indie thriller that approaches the Neo Nazi material in perhaps a more subtle way than the superior “American History X” or “Romper Stomper” but this is still a great indie thriller well worth checking out.