out of Five
Running time: 95
Impressively directed and skilfully edited, this is an utterly riveting true crime documentary that exerts a powerful grip and is by turns chilling, shocking and disturbing. It's also one of the best films of the year.
What's it all about?
Directed by British filmmaker Bart Layton, The Imposter begins with the story of Nicholas Barclay, a blonde, blue-eyed Texan teenager who disappeared in 1994, aged 13, and whose case barely even made the news. Over three years later, his family received a call from the Spanish authorities in Linares, saying that some tourists had found a missing boy claiming to be 16 year old Nicholas, whereupon his older sister Carey flew out to Spain, claimed the boy as her brother and brought him back to Texas. He was then welcomed in by the family, despite the fact that he had dark stubble, different coloured eyes and a pronounced French accent.
In fact, the “boy” in Linares was actually 23 year old Frederic Bourdin, a French-Algerian identity thief with a history of passing himself off as teenagers. After being brought into the family, even Bourdin can't quite believe that he's actually pulled it off, but when private investigator Charlie Parker digs into the case and proves that Frederic can't possibly be Nicholas (it's all in the ears, you see), events take a much darker twist.
The structure of the film is both gripping and disturbing; after some initial interviews with the family members, Layton allows Bourdin to take centre stage, narrating his own story, to camera, with a certain amount of pride in his actions (“I washed her brain”) and an apparent lack of remorse. Layton also includes reconstructions using an extremely good lookalike, who occasionally looks into the camera during the action and speaks with Bourdin's voice: the effect of this is genuinely unsettling, heightened by some impressive editing.
In addition, Layton interviews almost everyone involved in the case, from FBI agents to case workers, building up a fairly convincing argument for just how and why everyone was fooled (Bourdin even had a story for why his eyes had changed colour). In addition, the film refuses to lose sight of what actually happened to Nicholas, with dogged PI Charlie Parker (a true character who deserves his own series, immediately) still trying to dig up new evidence, even as he's talking us through his original part in the story.
As with the best true crime documentaries (such as The Thin Blue Line, Capturing the Friedmans or Tabloid), The Imposter exerts an almost hypnotic grip as the narrative takes a chilling turn before our eyes, changing to the point where Bourdin is no longer in control of his own story and we actually start to wonder if he was as much victim as perpetrator. Great soundtrack too.
The Imposter is a hugely enjoyable, impressively directed documentary that exerts a powerful grip and marks Bart Layton out as a talent to watch. Highly recommended.