A disturbing documentary with the power of a thriller.
This story is extraordinary. If someone told you this was their idea for a novel, you’d laugh and tell them not to give up their day job. It’s preposterous. But astonishingly, it’s true.
Filmed by British director Bart Layton, The Imposter is the story of 13-year-old Nicholas Barclay, who went missing from his home in Texas in 1994. Three years later a boy is found in Spain claiming to be Nicholas, despite looking and sounding completely different. As the title suggests, it’s a conman, a serial imposter by the name of Frédéric Bourdin. The film centres around his good-humoured narration of events, interspersed with interviews with the family and authorities, alongside reconstructed scenes with actors. Baffling incompetency, misguided assumptions, and the family’s strange blind faith give the imposter power beyond even his expectations and lead him to being accepted as the missing boy. Such is his power and the clever way the film is put together that to a degree you find yourself rooting for him. He’s obviously a very troubled soul, troubled enough to go to the lengths he goes to, but even he can’t believe he’s getting away with it.
As a documentary film, it’s well edited and well-paced, leaving you questioning whether it really is non-fiction and revealing an unexpected and dark twist in true thriller style. The interviews with Bourdin and the family would be scripting gold had they been scripted – the fact that they are real interviews makes them shine all the more. There are moments that make you laugh out loud in sheer disbelief, and it’s only when you step away for a moment that you remember it’s a story about a (real) missing boy, and then you feel unsettled and unnerved all over again.
Let down only by a too-ambiguous ending and the weak accompanying score, the film is worth watching for the way the story is unravelled and the sheer brazenness of Bourdin’s interviews. It will leave you thinking about the strength of human desire to be loved and accepted, and shaking your head in wonder that this could ever happen in real life.
Running time: 95 minutes
Watch the trailer for The Imposter here: