The Imposter | Movie review
Bart Layton’s documentary bids to be this year’s Capturing the Friedmans.
This year’s bid to join Capturing the Friedmans and The Thin Blue Line in the ranks of Ouroboros-ian true-crime docs, The Imposter doesn’t quite get there—perhaps because the filmmakers aren’t doing their own sleuthing but recounting an already well-documented case. No matter. The story itself is riveting, thanks in large part to its central figure: Frédéric Bourdin, a serial fabulist who in 1997 convinced Spanish authorities he was Nicholas Barclay, a San Antonio boy who had gone missing three years prior. The fact that he had the wrong eye color, a different build and spoke with a French accent was apparently of little consequence to them or to Nicholas’s family, who may simply have believed what they wanted to believe.
The Imposter is as much about movies’ own power to deceive as it is about the scam itself. Director Bart Layton pulls off a subtle trick: At times, he tantalizes viewers with Bourdin’s behind-the-scenes details on how he could fake knowledge he clearly did not have. At others, Layton keeps viewers in the dark, doling out information at strategic intervals so that our own credulity is called into question. (The use of reenactments is often suspect in documentaries; here it fits the general theme.) The film is rarely more chilling than when the cheery Bourdin, implausibly eager to share, comes to seem like the most trustworthy man in the room.