Synopsis: A documentary centered on a young Frenchman who convinces a grieving Texas family that he is their 16-year-old son who went missing for 3 years.
Stars: Frédéric Bourdin, Carey Gibson, Beverly Dollarhide, Charlie Parker
Director: Bart Layton
Running Length: 99 minutes
Trailer Review: Here
TMMM Score: (7/10)
Review: When I was a child my favorite part of Readers Digest was the Drama in Real Life section. Nearly all of them involved individuals that narrowly avoided injury or death at the hands of a various assortment of events. The Imposter is a documentary that could be put into this Drama in Real Life category as it weaves it true-life tale of a grieving family of a missing child and the shady character that shows up claiming to be the long-lost boy. Packing a wallop, the film represents the best kind of documentary in that it carefully pulls a switcheroo on its audience and before you know it you’re watching something you didn’t expect.
Sometimes it’s not the hockey-masked maniac terrorizing teenagers that scares me the most. What frightens me is the lengths that some people will go to achieve a goal no matter who they hurt along the way. It’s not a spoiler to reveal that the titular imposter is eventually discovered – and the film wouldn’t have worked half as well without letting the audience know right off the bat that fact. More so, the imposter himself, Bourdin, is another narrator of the piece along with the family of the missing boy that he incredibly impersonates.
Watching the film, if you’re like me you’ve got to be wondering how an early 20’s dark haired Frenchman with a strong accent fooled not only the family of the blond hair, blue eyed, late teen…but through the interviews with the family it becomes easier to understand why they didn’t ask many questions. The detailed story Bourdin weaves is one of torture and humiliation that would probably change anyone that goes through it. Still…it’s a little concerning that even though Nicholas Barclay went missing in Texas but allegedly turned up in Spain that not even the FBI agent assigned to the case took a long enough pause to see the inconsistencies.
For all intent and purposes, this was just another missing person cold case but when Bourdin got involved it opens up the film to cover not only what made the man impersonate the boy but just what happened to Nicholas in the first place. How this all shakes out is not something I’ll spoil for you but it’s a series of plot turns that I didn’t see coming. In fact, it made me question everything I had seen so far in the film – making a second viewing a near requirement.
The interviews with the imposter, family, and friends involved in the case are fascinating to watch as each seems to be telling a different tale. Each point of view is unique and not quite in alignment with the others – creating a Rashomon style structure where you are never entirely sure who is telling the correct version. Before the film is over, your loyalties may have shifted in flight as each new twist creates some shred of doubt in everything people are saying.
The only element I didn’t fully go with was the liberal use of dramatic reenactments to fill in the blanks of the story. While I thought that some of the blending of the interviews with staged scenes was smart, more often than not the whole thing looked like an episode of Unsolved Mysteries. Even so, these are filmed with a strong style and vision that is sadly absent in documentaries that are just a series of talking heads.
The Imposter is a strong entry in the real-life crime documentaries that are growing increasingly popular. Anchored by a too crazy to be true series of events and compelling interviewees it becomes a taut film that should send more than a few shivers up your spine.