Many have said that you should go into the docu-drama The Imposter not knowing anything, but the fact is not that many people about are going to pick a film at the cinema they literally know nothing about. So if you do fancy watching it completely cold, I’ll say you’re in for a fascinating ride but stop reading now, although if you do want to know a little more, then read on. However I’m not about to be a complete spoiler asshole, as I won’t tell you much more than you’ll discover in the first five minutes of the movie.
In 1994 in San Pedro, Texas, 14-year-old Nicholas Barclay went off to play basketball with his friends, but somewhere on his way home he went missing. Three and a half years later his mother receives a phone-call telling her that beyond all expectations, Nicholas has been found terrified and disoriented in a phone box in Spain, apparently after escaping from a child sex ring. However this is not really Nicholas, he is, as the title suggests, an imposter. While you might expect this ruse to be quickly uncovered, it isn’t, although I won’t say too much more, as the story of what happens is pretty incredible, unexpected and surprising.
The story is told through a mix of well-shot dramatic recreations, along with interviews with all the major participants, including Nicholas’ mother and sister, as well as the imposter himself, Frederic Bourdin. While you could argue that the film gives a platform for an inveterate liar who did a truly terrible thing, the way it’s made it essentially allows the viewer to make up their own mind about Frederic, so that you can decide how much of what he says is true and how much he’s massaging things to make himself look better.
While much of the film is almost a negotiation about the difficulty of finding the truth, especially when everyone’s view on it is different, just the verifiable facts of this case are astonishing. The way the documentary is put together turns the whole thing into a bit of a thriller, with all sorts of unexpected twists and turns. Although it’s a cliché to say something wouldn’t be believable as fiction, in this case it’s true, right down to a twist at the end that suddenly sheds a whole new light on what may have really been going on. Even the characters involved seem straight out of a movie, particularly private eye Charlie Parker, who’s the sort of Texan good ol’ boy I didn’t think actually existed.
Although this isn’t the sort of documentary that normally gets a cinema release, you can see why this one has, as the way it’s structured and the tale it tells really does feel like a movie. You’d also be advised to take a few people along to watch it with you, as you’re almost guaranteed to want to talk about it afterwards, arguing about what happened to Nicholas, why the family might have accepted Bourdin as their missing relative and whether the imposter is mad (literally, he sometimes seems on the verge of being a psychopath/sociopath), bad or slightly to be pitied.
Overall Verdict: A truly fascinating documentary that’s definitely worth going to see at the cinema. It’s well made with an astonishing story to tell which will keep you thinking for days afterwards.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac