THE IMPOSTER Is A Fact-Based Whodunnit That'll Keep You Guessing Until The Very End ... and Beyond
Jan 10, 2013
I don’t watch all that many documentaries.
It isn’t that I don’t like them. Rather, it’s that most that I’ve seen in my life tend to go to great lengths exploring the reasons behind, say, a central behavior. The narrator and his (or her) investigators go to immeasurable lengths to uncover exactly the who’s, what’s, where’s, when’s, and why’s. Near the conclusion, they try to add it all up, and, to my recollection, there’s always – ALWAYS – something missing. As closely as I can define it, I’d have to call it the human tendency to do something that defies logic, that defies conventional understanding, that just plain ol’ doesn’t make any sense.
What the makers of THE IMPOSTER have done is to the lengths necessary to answer those five W’s listed above; however, they knew going in that their picture wasn’t interested in adding it all up. Knowing what they knew when they knew it, they understood that some puzzles simply can’t be solved, so, more importantly, it’s the telling of the story that remains pivotal … and what a story it is.
(NOTE: the following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of characters and plot. If you’re the kind of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to my last two paragraphs for my final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of minor hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
The story behind THE IMPOSTER is the great American tragedy: a young boy – Nicholas Barclay – goes missing, completely vanished off the face of the big blue marble. Three years later, they receive a telephone call from a police officer in Spain; the man reports that their son has been found, and, though the 16-year-old doesn’t remember everything that’s happened to him, the family’s cooperation will be needed in order to validate the story. This is just the first layer of an onion that yields many, many more, and it’s told with an accomplished conviction by Bart Layton in his feature debut.
Frankly, it’s the type of story that’s difficult to review without spoiling some of it. Suffice it to say, the audience clearly understands from the documentary’s early moments that Nicholas hasn’t been found. Who has surfaced is the convicted French con-man Frederic Bourdin. Despite his obvious ruse, we watch as he – piece by piece – goes about the business of stealing an entire identity. About the time the audience believes Bourdin’s elaborate scheme is about to fall apart around him, he’s suddenly validated by a member of the Barclay family! This revelation pushes the boundaries even further when the Frenchman is then given a U.S. passport and returned home to San Antonio, Texas.
What unfolds from there – while increasingly bizarre – gradually becomes even more compelling, if not more frightening.
This is a masterful puzzle – the kind where there’s no possible solution to bring all of the curiosities to closure, but, like the darkest aspects of human nature forces us to do, we keep looking closer and closer. Eventually, we assume it’ll all make sense. That’s the brilliance of the picture – it can’t, not in any rational sense, but the players (and, just to clarify, these are all actors hired to play these parts with the exception of Bourdin who appears briefly) keep us directed away from them and back at the puzzle. It’s the endless loop – it’s the serpent’s head eating its tail. There is no resolution – not one that resembles anything valid … but, oh, what an obscurity, indeed!
THE IMPOSTER is produced by A&E IndieFilms, Film4, Protagonist Pictures, RAW, and Randy Murray Productions (Arizona). DVD distribution is being handled through Indomina Media. As for the technical specifications, it all looks and sounds exceptional, though I’ll admit that there were a few sequences where some audio trickery was used (dialogue through a telephone speaker, etc.) where the fidelity could’ve been a bit more pronounced. None of that took away from my immense enjoyment of the picture, and I thought it worth mentioning. As the disc I was provided was a traditional screener, there were no special features included on it. None are needed, as this is the kind of film that serves its purposes perfectly.
HIGHEST RECOMMENDATION POSSIBLE. It’s part mystery and part tragedy, but it’s all around fully compelling: that’s the only way I can describe THE (masterful) IMPOSTER. In many ways, the documentary is like watching a magic act, and you’re escorted behind the curtain to see precisely how the trick works; after it’s over, you still can’t quite explain it or perhaps even why you’re so fascinated by it. I think that’s the ongoing nature of human tragedy – I think it’s what secretly forces us to slow down and peer out into the wreckage of the automobile accident – I think we have a very deep-rooted need to understand ‘why.’ At this true story’s core, there’s obviously a truth, but, after a full explanation by those most intricately involved in it, it remains unimaginably elusive.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Indomina Media provided me with an advance DVD screener of THE IMPOSTER by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review.
When a child goes missing, our heart breaks, for the child’s family it is a harrowing experience. Director Bart Layton’s “The Imposter” is a documentary about a ‘true crime’ and it brings the story of a con man named Frederic Bourdin, who impersonated a young Texas boy who had disappeared at the age of 13 in 1994. Nicholas Barclay vanished on June 13, 1994, leaving such distressing pain that drained his mother and sister dry. They desperately … more
Star Rating: The Imposter plays like a particularly good episode of Unsolved Mysteries, not just because actual documentary footage is interspersed with reenactments, but also because the true story it tells is a thoroughly absorbing combination of intrigue and suspense. As with all good thrillers, fictional or non, what begins as a seemingly simple crime eventually escalates into something much more complicated; it’s not so much about who has done something … more