The Imposter * * * *

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Director: Bart Layton.
Featuring: Frédéric Bourdin, Adam O’Brian, Carey Gibson, Anna Ruben, Beverly Dollarhide, Cathy Dresbach, Charlie Parker, Alan Teichman, Nancy Fisher,

Over the last couple of years, there have been a number of sophisticated documentaries which have been structured in such a dramatic way, as to become an exciting new style of filmmaking altogether. Maybe it’s just that I’ve reached an age where I have the patience and can fully appreciate how a documentary plays out but I don’t remember them ever being as gripping as they are now. Either way, this is another one that can be included alongside the recent, impressive likes of “Exit Through The Gift Shop” and “Catfish“.

The true story of Frédéric Bourdin, a lonely but confident con-man who ends up in a Spanish orphanage, claiming he is Nicholas Barclay – a 16 year old Texan boy who went missing three years ago. The Barclay’s are contacted and Frédéric is flown over to meet with his estranged family. The fact that Frédéric has darker eyes, an accent and many other physical differences from the missing Nicholas doesn’t seem to bother the Barclay family; they are happy to welcome him back even though things just don’t add up.

This story unfolds while playing with the conventions of your average documentary. It’s has the obligatory interviews with the real life people involved but also intercuts with reconstructed dramatisations of the events and shapes the story with a film-like narrative. Anyone familiar with TV shows like “Crimewatch” will know what I mean when I compare it to such a style. That being said, it’s a highly effective approach and keeps you thoroughly involved. The biggest involvement comes from the actual events themselves, though. How these events even managed to take place is hard to believe. So much so, that it had me wondering whether this documentary was manipulated, much like the aforementioned “Exit Through The Gift Shop” and “Catfish“. That being said, it slowly reveals it’s darker layers and becomes a classic case of the truth being, most definitely, stranger than fiction. At one point, there is a revelation – which I won’t explore here – where you realise that the very thing you thought to be a hoax is surpassed by an even bigger web of deceit and it’s an absolute punch in the gut. The only issue I had with the film overall, was a lack of probing or further investigation into the startling revelations but this with this, I’m just looking for fault.

An absolutely gripping and frightening docu-drama that manages to create a real sense of unease. What’s more frightening is the unusual behaviour of the so-called ‘innocents’ involved, though.
An impressive piece of work.

Mark Walker

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24 Responses to “The Imposter * * * *”

  1. Ok, you’re the second person that’s spoke highly of this film recently. Sounds weird and a bit unsettling. I love it! Gonna have to give this a watch soon.

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  2. You know my thoughts, glad you feel the same 🙂

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  3. I keep seeing this film pop up all over the place now…I’m guessing this is Bart Layton’s first kick at the bucket? Great review as always Mark.

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  4. Great review Mark. The trailer gives me the creeps! I should give this a watch soon, the subject matter certainly is intriguing.

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    • Thanks Ruth. It certainly is intriguing. While your watching it, it’s hard to believe that this actually went on. I was glued to screen and it left me with very mixed feelings on everyone involved. Hope you see it soon, I would like to hear your thoughts on it.

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      • I know my hubby is very intrigued by this too, so yeah we’ll definitely see it. Btw, you must be happy that your hero DeNiro got an Oscar nom for Silver Linings Playbook 😀

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      • I hadn’t checked the Oscar Noms yet but I have now. Three of my favourite actors have been nominated – Day-Lewis, Philip Seymour Hoffman and, of course, the great Bob. Woohoo! Back where he belongs. I haven’t seen the film yet but from what I was hearing, I hoped that DeNiro would feature amongst them. Happy news Ruth. Thanks!

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      • Coolio! Btw, have you checked out my new blog series yet? 😉

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      • I haven’t! I’m in the hills at the moment so my reception is pretty poor but I’ll swing by and have a look. If my signal permits.

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  5. sanclementejedi Says:

    hmmm this is the first i have heard of this one will have to try and check it out. Thanks for the heads up Mark

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  6. Great review Mark. I wanted to catch this at the cinema but unfortunately missed it but it’s very high on my watch list. The last documentary I watched was Being Elmo, i’m guessing this is pretty different 🙂

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    • Cheers Chris. I haven’t seen Being Elmo but yeah, I’d imagine this one is very different. 😉
      It’s well worth a look, though. I’m surprised it wasn’t amongst the recent Oscar nominations.

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  7. Great review, man. My favorite documentary from last year. It’s so ridiculous that this is a true story.

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  8. The second Imposter review I’ve read today and both really praise it. I really want to watch this, especially since you compared it to Catfish, which I loved.

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  9. An impressive work of art indeed. This is unlike any documentary I’ve ever seen. Really really gripping stuff. Shame about its lack of an Oscar nomination.

    That old Charlie Parker. Man is just diggin’ away.

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    • Glad to hear you liked it too Alex. Gripping stuff and would probably be completely unbelievable if it wasn’t true. I would liked to have seen more investigation into the revelations though.

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