The Imposter Review

This really happened.

On June 13th 1994 a blonde haired, blue eyed thirteen year old by the name of Nicholas Barclay went missing from his home town of San Antonio, Texas and didn’t even leave a note.

Little bastard.

Three and a half years later, his family got a call; Nic had been found, in Spain.

“Isn’t that, like, across the country?” said Nic’s stunned thirty one year old sister.

Yanks, eh. You gotta love em.

Anyway, off she tootled to get her little brother who’d weathered the storms of sex slavery author du jour E L James would die for, and the now sixteen year old returned safely to his ecstatic family.

So ecstatic that they overlooked his newly acquired olive skin, brown eyes and French accent.

Twenty three year old Frederic Bourdin, the rootless man they brought home as their child, couldn’t believe his luck; as I’m sure documentary filmmaker Bart Layton couldn’t when he stumbled across their case.

Edges of seats were created for stories like this.

Layton’s documentary The Imposter documents how Bourdin stole the identity of missing Nicholas, convinced authorities he was a teenage American and lived with the Barclays for five months as their son, even attending his school.

You just couldn’t make this shit up.

The narrative is constructed from interviews with the slimy yet compelling Bourdin, Nicholas’ family and the police forces who worked on the case; most notably Texas private investigator Charlie Parker who became so obsessed that he made a pathological liar sound more credible than him by running around hollering “The ears don’t match! The ears, the ears!”

Layton’s unobtrusive presence is unbiased and he makes sure all of The Imposter’s interviewees talk freely. We hear nothing but their versions of events while visuals shift between interview footage and stylishly shot recreations of what’s being told, featuring a cast who are gobsmackingly similar to their real life counterparts.

The result is a moving depiction of a bereaved family’s encounter with a sociopath that’s both implausible yet credible.

We’re given 91 minutes of various perspectives of the same story; all different, all true to the person speaking, all of which reveal the tendency of human beings to weave beautiful and complex arguments to convince themselves of almost anything.

Be it belief in a god, faith in some sort of community leader or that your milk and honey teenage son can return home tall, dark and French-Algerian after an agonising three year absence.

Having read my words back, I appreciate how unbelievable this story can sound, but hearing those involved explain their thought from the time makes things seem somehow understandable.

At the risk of sounding like a freshly escaped Amish virgin, The Imposter had the effect of a theme park ride on my heart rate.

Layton gives us an atmospheric documentary with the pace and feel of a thriller, which makes for quite a ride; and then there’s the twist at the end.

Don’t forget to pick your jaw up off the floor on the way out.

EJ Robinson

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August 2012
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