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The Imposter [Movie] Review

Posted on November 25, 2012 AT 12:43pm

Very few documentaries can grasp the audience immediately the way that Bart Layton’s The Imposter does. The story of Frédéric Bourdin is a twisted and disturbing one, a story that is born out of one of the worst fears any family could ever face. In 1993, a young boy in Texas by the name of Nicholas Barclay went missing. His family, struck with grief, searched for him for years. In 1997 a twenty three year old man in Spain would lie to the police claiming to be sixteen year old Nicholas in what has become one of the most famous cons of all time. That man was Frédéric Bourdin.

The Barclay/Bourdin story was told before in the fictionalized 2010 film The Chameleon, but up until now Frédéric has never really spoken about his side in his own words, at least not like this. Director Bart Layton uses a blend of interviews and reenactments to create a narrative where the speaker moves in and out of scenes that they lived while describing what’s happening to the audience. With Bourdin telling the events from his perspective the narrative takes a twist that you wouldn’t expect. Suddenly, you’ll start to be on the side of both the family that is going through a terrible ordeal and the man who put them through an even worse experience.

A sense of dread and discomfort will sweep over you as Bourdin explains how desperate he was to not get caught while still feeling the need to be loved by a family. His main drive being that his childhood was terrible and that he never received the love that he feels a child should. Bourdin is instantly likable in the way that all big screen con-men are likable. He’s charming, has a winning smile, a great personality and tells his side of the events so well that you can’t help but feel for him. Watching Bourdin reenact the events leading up to his taking on the role of Nicholas is hypnotizing. How could he pull this off? In a matter of hours the man slips in and out of multiple identities in order to finally slip into the one that would make him famous… a boy he knew nothing about, who he’d never heard of and now he had to fool that boy’s family without ever knowing them. The fact that Bourdin succeeded at all is shocking but that’s just the start.

Summary: In the end The Imposter is a brilliant case study of loss and the desire to be loved, as well as the lengths people will go to fill those voids in their life. It’s beautifully shot, wonderfully edited and scored. If there was any issue with it, it’s that the film tries to tie up too many loose ends that don’t provide closure, and from a story perspective it feels a little awkward, but true to life.

  • THE GOOD: The way this story is presented makes it one of the most watchable documentaries of the past decade. More directors need to be willing to blend the lines of fictional story telling and reality.
  • THE BAD: The finale feels a little weak and while it starts with a bang it ends on a whimper

Score: 9.0

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