The Imposter Review – Terrifying Truths

Director: Bart Layton 

Stars: Frederic Bourdin, Carey Gibson, Beverly Dollarhide, Charlie Parker


Release date: August 24th, 2012

Distributors: Picturehouse Entertainment, Revolver Entertainment, Indomnia Releasing

Country: USA

Running time: 99 minutes


Best part: The chilling interviews.

Worst part: The vague messages.

Errol Morris’ award winning and influential documentary The Thin Blue Line was revelatory in its illustration of an important issue affecting the american judicial system. Its profound dramatisation of events is used similarly in the French docu-thriller The Impostor, a polarising look at one of the most inexplicable crimes in middle America’s history.

Frederic Bourdin.

Frederic Bourdin.

This event begins in 1994 with the disappearance of 12 year old Nicholas Barclay in San Antonio, Texas. Over three years later, Frederic Bourdin, a French teenager surviving the streets of Spain steps forward; claiming to be the sweet Texan boy presumed deceased. What unfolds is a character study based on the extremities Bourdin reaches to convince the still grieving and baffled family that Nicholas has returned. With several eyewitnesses government types and family members carefully tracing his every step before, during and after the shocking revelation, Bourdin continually recounts a life lead between his introduction into their world and eventual capture by Interpol.

Charles Parker.

Charles Parker.

Much like The Thin Blue Line, in which a vivid array of testimonials and re-enactments proved the case against convicted felon Randall Dale Adams to be fraudulent, The Impostor has the attractive elements of a gritty 90’s crime thriller with the informative structure of expository documentary film-making. Director Bart Layton has no immediate influence on proceedings. Instead he allows testimonials to speak for themselves, creating sympathetic yet questionable characters out of the victims and suspects of this story. Told in non-linear fashion, his low grade style of dramatisation allows for a nuanced narration of important re-enacted events from his interviews. Fluidly transitioning between past and present, The Impostor plays out like an on-going case, with Leyton continually changing sides on this important issue. The viewer will ultimately be polarised between the victims and suspects based on the harrowing evidence brought to light at every twist and turn. Leyton’s dramatisation of past events is created through a darker tone than most documentaries. The contrast created between the darkened, decrepit streets and orphanages of Spain, and the peaceful country lifestyle of San Antonio, develops a thought provoking motive for Bourdin’s sickening actions. The use of fluorescent lighting in particular creates a visceral edge for this dramatisation commonly found in David Fincher’s stellar crime-thriller creations such as Fight Club and Se7en.

“A new identity was a real passport, an American passport, I could go to the US, go to the school there, live with that family and just being someone and don’t never again to to worry about being identified.” (Frederic Bourdin, The Imposter).

The infamous phone booth scene.

The infamous phone booth scene.

Leyton’s objectivity is vital for re-creating the elements of this ordeal. Bourdin’s unsettling mind is chillingly examined through testimonial from Bourdin himself. Behind his creepy smile and wide eyes, a sympathetic yet unnerving young man with a strong determination for finding love through family bonds is uncovered as the motives and methods behind his many fraudulent and tortuous crimes are intelligently discussed. The viewer’s obvious choice to side with the grieving family may come at a cost as more is revealed about the origins of Nicholas’ disappearance. A noticeable level of ineptness is depicted through their testimonials as assumptions are slowly and carefully drawn about Nicholas’ living situation. “Spain? isn’t that on the other side of the Country?” Nicholas’ sister recalls saying through testifying her role in the ordeal. With many elements of this case based on poor judgements by the alarming number of american ambassadors, private investigators and Interpol officials involved, The Imposter makes a strong case for the number of bureaucratic post-war security hiccups to be considered a legitimate concern.

Being the most valuable film and TV genre, documentary can inject interest even the most trivial events and issues. Here, Bart Layton has done just that. Thanks to his attention to detail, his latest effort delivers more chills than most big-budget schlockers.

Verdict: An intelligently dramatised documentary with genuine chills.

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