Richard sits in with Marcia MacMillan to have a look at the weekend’s new movies, the true-to-life thrills of “Deepwater Horizon,” Tim Burton’s X-Men-esque “Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children,” the thriller “Imperium” and the ripped-from-the-headlines documentary “The Lovers and the Despot.”
It can take some doing, but once you get past the idea of Harry Potter as a white supremacist “Imperium” is an enjoyable potboiler.
Daniel Radcliffe plays FBI agent Nate Foster, a principled young man with an uncanny resemblance to Harry Potter, whose empathy and idealism attract the attention of his FBI superior Angela Zamparo (Toni Collette). She recruits him to
shave his hair down to the stubble and go deep undercover to take down a radical white nationalist group planning to build a dirty bomb. Inexperienced but focussed, he pilots his way through the ranks of racists, including the Ayran Brotherhood, right wing radio host Dallas Wolf (Tracy Letts) and wealthy extremist Gerry Conway (“True Blood’s” Sam Trammell). Fully embedded, he finds the tricky balance between maintaining his personal beliefs without blowing his cover.
Based on real events “Imperium” is a standard undercover drama with a few standout performances. Radcliffe is very good at portraying Nate’s calm-under-pressure demeanour, while imparting a sense of urgency into the character. On the other end of the scale is Trammell who quietly plays his racist as an everyday family man who has allowed hate to infect his soul. As a provocative radio host Tracy Letts hands in another interesting performance, one that suggests that for some, money is more important than principles, no matter how skewed they may be.
“Imperium” contains some provocative and offensive images—the mere sight of Harry Potter shouting racial epithets will be enough to upset many a viewer—but the underlying story of racial intolerance doesn’t add much to the conversation. Instead of exploring the psychopathology of hatred and anti-Semitism in the United States it is content to play as a thriller and little else. As such it’s good, if not quite edge-of-your-seat stuff, but it could have been much more.
The first five-hankie film of the year, “The Fault in Our stars” is an adolescent “Love Story.” Based on John Green’s young adult novel about two teenagers who fall in love after meeting in a cancer support group, it’s a tearjerker that has been making teenage girls spout tears like water shooting from fire hydrants since its release in 2012.
“Divergent” star Shailene Woodley plays Hazel Grace Lancaster, a sixteen-year-old first diagnosed with cancer when she was thirteen. An experimental treatment has given her some semblance of a normal life, but the cancer is now in her lungs and she relies on a portable oxygen tank to keep her alive. “My lungs suck at being lungs,” she says, “but theoretically they should work for a while.”
Fearing that the young girl is spending far too much time alone compulsively reading a cancer memoir called An Imperial Affliction, her parents Frannie and Michael (Laura Dern, Sam Trammell), push her towards a support group for kids with cancer at a local church.
There she meets Augustus Waters (Ansel Elgort), a handsome eighteen-year-old former athlete who lost a leg to osteosarcoma. He falls for her but she keeps him in the friend zone in an attempt to protect him from what she sees as an unhappy ending to their potential romance. “I’m a grenade,” she says, “and one day I’m going to explode and obliterate everything in my wake and it is my responsibility to minimize the causalities.”
It sounds like it has all the elements of a major summer bummer, but despite being set in what Hazel calls the “Republic of Cancervania,” it avoids the maudlin. Instead the story is told with acerbic wit, filtered through the life experiences of characters who have rarely known a healthy day. In the film’s opening minutes Hazel says she doesn’t live in a world where “nothing is so messed up it can’t be fixed by a Peter Gabriel song,” suggesting that there won’t be any easy answers offered up here.
Spearheading the uniformly excellent cast is Woodley who strays into Jennifer Lawrence territory here. Her Hazel is a realist, with a fatalistic streak, but still a teen and Woodley finds a balance between those aspects of Hazel’s life and personality in a remarkably complex but natural performance. She’s wry, calling herself the “Keith Richard of cancer kids” while inventorying her daily intake of drugs. But she’s also wise beyond her years. On her parent’s struggle she says, “The only thing worse than biting it from cancer,” she says “is having a kid bite it from cancer.”
As a terminally ill girl who lets down walls to let love into her life Woodley drips with charisma. Her performance—with capable assistance from Elgort and Dern—brings genuine emotion to scenes that might have gone the way of over-the-top sentimentality or cliché.
It’s true that some of the dialogue is overwritten—these are the most articulate teens on film since Juno—and the second half succumbs to a hint of emotional manipulation, but it works.
My biggest complaint about the whole experience was being splashed by the tears of my fellow moviegoers. Bring a towel.