By: Garrett Collins
The Imposter is one of those rare documentaries that walks the line between fiction & reality. And pleases fans of both. It is the first documentary I can remember that I am urging people to see. In an era when the bar of a successful film is measured by whether you are a comic book movie, a re-boot, a sequel or a prequel, the chance to create something highly and deeply original is becoming harder every year. Director Bart Layton has accomplished just that with The Imposter. The film successfully crosses the path of true documentary interviews with that of noir film stylings, and sets itself apart from other documentaries by advancing the production value as opposed to dry AMC and other interview-filled documentaries very considerably. As a result, The Imposter is able to separate itself from things such as the grossly overrated Catfish and become an extremely well-crafted film. If there is one must-see film, I would say this is it. White knuckle suspense and gripping storytelling at its finest, my recommendation bar is at its highest, and I think you would be doing a disservice to yourself if you didn’t see it.The Imposter is one of those movies that the less you know going in, the better off you will be after watching it. However I am going to do the best I can to be discreet about its story. The film tells the true account of Nicholas Barclay, a 13-year-old Texas boy who disappeared without a trace. Four years of searching have produced no results. Until he turns up in Spain. Or did he? After travelling to Spain to take him home, his sister, Carey Gibson, his mother, Beverly Dollarhide, and his brother-in-law, Bryan Gibson are all happy to see him. Yet, something feels off about their newly returned family member. As his face, his mannerisms, and even his (French!) accent are all different from when he left them. Is this all a result of what he went through during his kidnapping? Turns out that this is not the case. As 13-year-old Nicholas Barclay is actually 23-year-old imposter Frederic Bourdin. How did he get away with it? How was he caught? And, perhaps most importantly, why did Bourdin do what he did? Believe it or not, I did not even scratch the surface of the story this docudrama tells with my description of it. As all the family members weigh in on their feelings of thinking that ‘Barclay’ was actually brain-washed to think he was someone else. Each and every time Layton cuts to them, you want to yell at them for not realizing that the child they were so happy to have back in their lives was actually someone else. ‘How could they be so dumb,’ you will want to ask. But Layton’s genius is his ability to add a new layer of frosting on his already awesome cake with each passing interview. And it feels next to impossible to do this. Nonetheless, as fascinating as these scenes are, things get REAL interesting when Layton talks to Bourdin himself.
Now PLEASE don’t get me wrong. What Bourdin did is despicible, and by no means am I condoning it. But like any good documentarian, Layton (who reportedly spent two days speaking to him) adds Bourdin’s side as well. And in the process of doing so makes him ALMOST sensible, as things about his past such as the fact he didn’t have a real childhood growing up are revealed. And, when faced with a future that involves the possibility of going to jail, he saw this as an opportunity to not only escape that prospect, but also have what he felt was missing from his life. Of course, every time he speaks (which is early and often), the question comes up on whether to trust a pathological liar such as Bourdin. And being the smart filmmaker that he is, Layton plays with this, adding dramatizations to his stories and leaving them open to interpretation.
Another genius of The Imposter is its ability to unfrustratingly end the film with more questions than answers. This may leave people who want their films to end wrapped up like big ball of yarn angry. But I for one went with it. It proves that the filmmakers knew no more about this crazy story or its validity any more than us going in, and were figuring things out as they went. Simply put, The Imposter is one of the best films to come down the pike in years. That’s right folks: not just documentaries, but all types of movies. It is nerve-wracking, darkly hilarious, and, like any well crafted film, unpredictable. A few people may see the ways Layton dramatizes the story gimmicky (the guy did work on UK television for years, and this is his first feature). But I guarantee, The Imposter will captivate you. See this movie. Now.
5 out of 5