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The Imposter Reviews

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familiar s

Super Reviewer

May 7, 2014
It'd have been even better if they'd made a movie based on these events. The interviews, at times, shatter the involvement with the documentary film. But yeah, it gave a picture of how far a criminal's mind can reach, despite having quite a different appearance than the missing child. Making it in fully movie format would have helped the twist better.
Michael S

Super Reviewer

September 21, 2012
"The Imposter" is one of the best, most memorable, and most unnerving documentaries I have ever seen; a masterclass of it's format. It's factual interviews meld incredibly well with terrifically shot recreations, and unforeseeable twists that make the doc play as a thriller, with the brooding menace of David Fincher's best work. Like all of the best documentaries, "The Imposter" will leave you in disbelief, and scouring ever little detail on the subject via wikipedia afterwards. You won't soon forget it.
Anthony L

Super Reviewer

September 11, 2013
The tag line couldn't be more true, 'There are two sides to every lie'. The Imposter is the new Capturing the Friedmans so far as style and intrigue goes but I've not seen a film that really fits the profile of 'So unbelievable, it must be true' as much as this. The key to this documentary is the fact that both sides sound believable but one of them is definitely lying. It beggars belief but then that is what documentaries are for, although don't watch hoping to find out all the facts, you've got to make your own mind up but then again, that is the sign of a good documentary doing what it is supposed to do and doing it well.
Idrees K

Super Reviewer

February 13, 2013
A true crime story with so many twists and turns you might think it was scripted. Well executed documentary that does its best to take an objective point of view, and leave the decision-making to the viewer.
Dan S

Super Reviewer

January 31, 2013
An unsettling, almost unbelievable true story of a young boy who disappeared from San Antonio, Texas in 1994 only to resurface in 1997 in Spain and be returned home to his family. Only it's not him, but someone much older pretending to be him for reasons unknown. A documentary that challenges while never losing its hypnotizing grasp, director Bart Layton has crafted an exceptional film full of twists and turns, and real-life characters where you go from feeling pity, to anger, to ultimately just sadness and bewilderment. The central figure pretending to be someone he is not is a fully-developed person, someone who obviously has mental problems but is unaware of just how careless his actions are. The last third throws in yet another insane twist to this story that might have some screaming "faux-documentary", but in the end you come away shocked, but convinced, that a story this incredible occurred.
Carlos M

Super Reviewer

July 11, 2012
A shocking and unbelievable true story which, had someone told me it happened, I would've had a very hard time buying into it. What begins as an apparently simple case of imposture turns out to be about something so much more horrific - and it must be seen to be believed.

Super Reviewer

January 11, 2013
The Imposter is a seductress. It seduces the innate human desire to construct a narrative; to find an explanation in the explicable.

When a young boy vanishes from his San Antonio home in 1994, an itinerant youth from Spain swindles his way into the clutches of the grieving family. Cunning, enigmatic, Frédéric Bourdin claims to be the missing boy in order to fill a void in his own life. On top of this, he soon finds out that his presence allows the family to mend. Even in the face, pun intended, of overwhelming evidence, the grief-stricken family chooses to believe the impossible.

At times director Bart Layton feels like a more manipulative Errol Morris; painting a portrait of the peripheral while simultaneously using the material to tease out rather invasive implications for the viewer at home. With this film, Layton allows the audience to look at the family with sympathetic contempt for buying Bourdin's story, all while fastening on new theories that dupe us into creating whatever version of the story gives us the most satisfaction. Layton does so by blending interviews with reenactments, a tool that I usually find obnoxious, but is wisely done here.

The film itself is akin to an elaborate con. The talent behind the ruse is uncanny. And even though the viewer may feel robbed due to the lack of clarification that the film offers, one cannot help but be in awe of the masterful manipulation.
Mark W

Super Reviewer

January 9, 2013
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 that 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.

Super Reviewer

January 1, 2013
In the first couple of minutes of The Imposter, we hear a recorded call with captions placing the call in time; then the film is rewound and we hear it again. The Imposter is a fairly straightforward tale of identity theft but a tale that needs this constant revision. Everything one hears in its turn requires closer scrutiny. Director Bart Layton's triumph is to follow each thread of the story through, only increasing the layers of information when the tale demands it. This is a captivating and chilling story, beautifully explored by Layton. He blurs the boundaries between a documentary and blockbuster. Even though Layton allows you to be aware that Frederic is not the real Nicholas Barclay from the outset, he teasingly feeds you fragments of the story piece by piece from the perspectives of the family members, the officials and Frederic himself. The product is a gripping thriller, heightened by the knowledge that it is a true story and by the mesmerizing stylized cinematography, including some eery moving portraits of the family members accepting an obvious stranger into their home. This is just one of the many striking images in this film that will stay with me for a long time.

There's more to the composition than this, of course. Layton's interviews are impeccably collated so that one has the feeling that at all times the individual telling their story is being honest, even when they might look a bit silly. It's also a great achievement to end with a greater mystery than those that tumble forward as the story rolls on. Frederic Bourdin is the great draw of the show, as candid as Joe Simpson in Touching The Void. The editing helps make the point where others would have resorted to interpolated exposition. There's also a nice, unobtrusive soundtrack by Anne Nikitin which follows almost exactly the emotional temperature of the film.

Provoking questions about identity, human nature, society and national security, The Imposter keeps you eager with anticipation while you bathe in the beauty of the images crafted by Layton. It's a brilliant documentary that plays like a thriller. This is easily one of the best films of 2012, and one that really drives home the notion that truth is stranger than fiction.

Super Reviewer

December 30, 2012
'The Imposter'. A remarkable exploration into deception and delusion. The fact that it's true makes it all the scarier.
Luke B

Super Reviewer

December 22, 2012
Some stories are so incredible they could only be true. The Imposter is all about a missing boy who is found after 3 years far away from his Texas home, in Spain. He returns to the family who welcome him home. The only problem is, it isn't their son. Watching The Imposter you see how desperate some people are to believe what they are told, especially in times of great tragedy. They are even prepared to believe that his eye-colour somehow changed. Despite the discrepancies between the missing boy and the imposter, he manages to trick everyone from the Spanish authorities to the FBI. We are given both sides of the story, from the imposter himself and the family at the centre of the tale. But darker secrets may be hidden away for both criminal and victims. This is an exceptional mystery, horror, and spine-tingling drama. It all relates back to belief and faith, and is also the journey into the mind of a man who has been psychologically damaged and no longer understands the repercussions of his actions. This is a film that has to be seen, as it tells you a little something about yourself and your species.
Sophie B

Super Reviewer

October 3, 2012
Fantastic documentary which plays more like a comedy thriller where nothing is lost despite the fact that we already know who the imposter actually is. It's hard to believe it's a true story but it's thoroughly compelling and a must watch for everyone.
Bathsheba Monk
Bathsheba Monk

Super Reviewer

September 17, 2012
I went with some friends to this movie, and didn't know what to expect and so I wasn't actually sure that this was a real documentary or a fake documentary. Wow. Frederick Bourdin is the king of sociopaths and the family of Nicholas Barclay that he duped into thinking he was their missing boy--I don't know what to say about them. Bourdin, who is Algerian, looked and sounded NOTHING like Barclay who was Scotch Irish or something. Could you want someone who left with no trace back so badly that you are willing to believe that some random person is him? I don't know. I have never been in that situation. Was the family covering up some heinous crime they committed or colluded with? That seems likely, but if so they apparently covered up their tracks pretty thoroughly. Anyway, I kept flashing to that French movie, The Ruturn of Martin Guerre where the same basic thing happened, except in the middle ages, when that movie took place, there were no photos or videos of the missing person. There were plenty around the Barclay house. Anyway, I'll be thinking of the intricacies of the human heart for quite a while because of this.
William S

Super Reviewer

August 27, 2012
Could it be that the most satisfying film so far this year is actually a documentary?
The Imposter is everything you would want in a piece of cinema - exciting, funny, thought-provoking, great characters, lump-in-the-throat suspense, a killer twist or two and with the added bonus of being true. It has to be - the story is so utterly unbelievable, no-one would ever swallow this as a piece of fiction.
I was totally gripped, right from its attention-grabbing opening all the way to the double 'fuck-you' ending - needless to say that this is one family reunion that won't be happening again any time soon.

A word of warning though - don't read the previews/reviews. Since seeing this, I have read some previews/reviews that relay the whole story and you really do need to see this knowing as little as possible.

Recommended unreservedly

Super Reviewer

March 20, 2014
"The Imposter" is a suspenseful, multi-leveled and twist-filled documentary about 13-year old Nicholas Barclay who is found 3 years after having disappeared from San Antonio in Spain and is soon after reunited with his family. Except...

It is not Nicholas. It is Frederic, a 23 year-old con man.(Actually, his name is not revealed until late in the documentary but really it's not a big deal.) At the start, he pretends to be a teenager to get into a group home where at least at first he will not be identified and sent to prison. But with the threat of being fingerprinted hanging over him, he hatches a scheme to pretend to be a lost teenager from America. And then it turns out he may have outsmarted himself when Nicholas' sister arrives from America.

In the stranger than fiction department(which includes a private investigator from Texas named Charlie Parker), "The Imposter" poses some questions(some of which are very dark indeed) for which it may not think it has the answers. The first of which is how could both Nicholas' family and the American authorities be so easily fooled by somebody who did not even resemble him. I agree part of it may have to do with wish fulfillment, not only for the family but also the feds who may have been salivating at the opportunity to go after a human trafficking ring like the one Frederic described to them. The other part involves Frederic who I think underestimates his own talents when being interviewed. Even though he currently seems sincere, there are some chinks in the armor where the cool operator emerges from the shadows. But just as unreliable a narrator as he probably is, you also have to remember at the same time the old saying that even a broke clock is right twice a day.
Shawn M

Super Reviewer

December 29, 2012
Amazing, wondering if this was a true story, either way, epic. Has you glued through out the entire film wanting more answers. love these kind of flicks.
Glenn G

Super Reviewer

August 12, 2012
There's no reason THE IMPOSTER should work. It's an Errol Morris-style knockoff with the dreaded "America's Most Wanted" dramatic reenactments. There are more loose ends than in any given night aboard an RSVP cruise...yet...YET...I was riveted nonetheless.

The story of a sociopath who pretends to be the missing son of a Texas family, despite the fact that he's several years older, speaks with a French accent, and is clearly a different ethnicity, is really quite astounding. Before going in, I had one major question. How could they be so blind?

This gets answered fairly early in the process, and I was able to roll with it. For here's a story about loss and that very American need for a happy ending no matter the cost. The Texas family elicits great suspicion from the word "go". Despite their clear grief, we as viewers can't help but notice how, pardon the expression, janky this clan looks. Think the white neighbors in BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD only with a meth addiction instead of the moonshine they imbibed, and you'll get the picture. I'm not saying they ARE meth addicts, but I AM saying that they lack teeth, have gaunt complexions, and have those bugged-out eyes which either say, "Pity me" or "Can't you see the imaginary intruders breaking into my house behind me?"

The style in this film is an amalgamation of direct-to-camera interviews (ala Morris) and thrillingly shot reenactments. There's great beauty in these images. They're evocative of the great detective films of the 30s but with a hip wardrobe upgrade in the form of our antagonist. Call it Hoodie Noir.

Despite the truly compelling nature of this story, and man is there one great, jaw-dropping twist, THE IMPOSTER left me with a LOT of unanswered questions. Without spoiling anything, there are crucial incidents described in the film which could have used a little more digging on the part of the filmmakers. It would have been nice had he connected the dots a little more so that we could believe how certain events could have happened. Regardless, we get to peer into the eyes of an unabashed sociopath here, and that's pretty chilling stuff. A must-see despite its flaws.

Super Reviewer

August 14, 2013
This British documentary about the 1997 case of the French 23 yers old man Frédéric Bourdin, who impersonated 16 years old Nicholas Barclay, a Texas boy who disappeared at the age of 13 in 1994, was amazing. The film includes interviews with Bourdin and members of Barclay's family, as well as archive TV news footage and re-enacted dramatic sequences. I enjoyed every second of it, and I could not believe all the things which happened in real life.

Bourdin is a colourful character and he had a long record of impersonating various different children, real or imaginary, before claiming to be Nicholas by alleging that he had been kidnapped for purposes of sexual abuse by Mexican, European, and U.S. military personnel and transported from Texas to Spain. His impersonation fooled almost all officials from Spain and the U.S., and he was even accepted by most of Nicholas' family members. That would not be strange if he wasn't seven years older, spoke with French accent, and had brown eyes and dark hair rather than Nicholas' blue eyes and blond hair.

Director Bart Layton has produced, written, and directed several television documentaries, but this film is his feature film debut. Outstandingly directed, immaculately told, perfectly edited - this is a documentary I waited for a long time!
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