The Imposter review

The Imposter is a true story, a story of things that really happened, a truthful account of things that really happened. Despite that, watching the documentary unfold you still can’t help but ask yourself, “REALLY?” It is unbelievable how the truth doesn’t actually mean THE truth ... but SOMEONE’S truth.

The story is this: 13-year-old Nicholas Barclay disappears in the US from a nowhere town in Texas and is located in Europe three years later and eventually reunited with his family. That’s the bare bones of this documentary. The problem is that, he is not the real missing boy but actually a "young" Frenchman, Frédéric Bourdin, who pretends to be Nicholas and he convinces the apparently grieving family that he IS the missing teen, so they take him back to Texas and welcome him with open arms ... mostly. Some of the family suspect he is not the missing nicholas; others disguise their suspicions or ignore them all together.

Little things like HE LOOKS AND SOUNDS NOTHING LIKE THE MISSING BOY! Despite dying his hair – while in custody in the detention centre where he is held in Europe overnight in front of officials – from brown to blond, BADLY, hardly anyone suspects anything ... and that he suddenly develops distinguishing tattoos just like the missing boy had seemingly overnight ... and despite him having different coloured eyes to the missing boy ... and a totally different face ... and developing a strong French accent ... and looking about 10 years older than he should ... and attempting to learn as much as he can about his family but filling and blaming the gaps in his story with claims of being held by a child sex ring that moved him from place to place and being banned from speaking English (hence the accent) ... he STILL manages to hoodwink enough of the people enough of the time to get away with this.

After the honeymoon period and the metaphorical tickertape parade, the castle starts to crumble though when The Imposter starts to mix with “the real world”, locals start to talk and the media circus rolls into town ... and that is where the REAL twists come in ... so my synopsis stops there. If this was a Hollywood film, no-one would buy it, it would be laughed out of a production office for being too farfetched and, if ever made, would most likely be slammed by critics and audiences alike.

The Hollywood equivalent would be like Daniel Radcliffe disappearing from London and turning up in New Orleans as Martin Lawrence in a fat suit. The fact that it is real life and hardly anyone DIDN’T fall in line with this circus train of a barefaced lie is simply amazing and leaves you utterly slack-jawed in amazement and bewilderment. Handled badly, this would have you screaming “Bollocks!” at the screen and probably walking out and telling your friends not to bother, but it is so absolutely captivating and the truth is so unbelievable you can’t help but get sucked in and scream “But HOW?!” instead.

Using interviews with family members, friends and significant other figures involved in this charade as well as interview footage with Bourdin himself blended with reconstructed footage and actual news footage from the time, this really is a heady mix of storytelling that entertains and exhausts as your gast is flabbered. Just writing about this still has me shaking my head, wondering how this actually happened in a time of DNA profiling. All he needed to pull of this major scam was a phone, the internet, the thinnest of plans and some people broken all they have is the faintest of hopes. Astounding and outstanding, The Imposter is an absolute must see documentary and I would absolutely expect this to be on the Oscar shortlist come February 2013. I will promise you this: The only thing you can absolutely 100% take away from this bundle of smoke, mirrors and falsehoods is that this entire lie is the whole truth.

The Imposter at IMDb

Stuart O'Connor is the Managing Editor of Screenjabber, the movie review website he co-founded with Neil Davey far too many years ago. He likes all genres, as long as the film is good (although he does enjoy the occasional bad "guilty pleasure"), and drinks way too much coffee.

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