Release Date: 24th August, 2012
Director: Bart Layton
Starring: Adam O’Brian, Anna Ruben, Cathy Dresbach
In a refreshing change of pace from traditional summertime releases, The Imposter is a feature-length documentary surrounding the case of missing teenager Nicholas Barclay in San Antonio throughout the 1990s. Constructed through an amalgam of archival footage, interviews and reconstructions, the film is equal parts testimonial and thriller. It could be a side-effect of having to endure Step Up 4 and The Wedding Video over the past couple of weeks, but The Imposter may just well be the surprise gem of the summer.
At its core, The Imposter is a tale of transformation. The opening sequence introduces the Barclay family, whose youngest child Nicholas went missing when he was 13. 4 years later, a young man is found in Spain claiming to be Nicholas and is returned to the United States, reunited with the Barclay family. It is quickly revealed that the young man is not the Barclay’s boy, but in fact a French identity thief, who works to narrate much of the events of the film, rationalising his decisions and motivations throughout. The film is painfully well-constructed, revisiting details at key moments to reveal another twist on the increasingly-horrific tale. It makes for an incredibly entertaining watch as what you think you know is capable of being transformed at the turn of a sentence.
Tonally, the film seems to fluctuate violently between absurdity, humour and horror as film delves deeper into the actions and psychology behind the imposter. I spent much of the film in sheer disbelief at the actions he recounted with a gleeful, childish smile on his face, which only served to add to the menace unfolding. There are moments of humour, I’m sure most of which were completely unintentional, thanks to Private Investigator Charlie Parker (no, not that Charlie Parker) who seems to be the first to truly question the identity of ‘Nicholas’ after the media catch wind of his return. Parker is a hard-working, amicable, elderly southern gentleman who takes a keen interest in the reappearance of Nicholas, pursuing leads to the best of his ability.
Often when it comes to reconstructed scenes in documentaries, they can make or break the overall package. Layton chooses to film in a distinctively noir-ish fashion, accompanied by a low-key score, interview narration and some well-chosen casting to create engrossing scenes that accompany the interviews and home videos. The larger-than-life personality of the imposter, as well as many of the people involved with the case, stand out so distinctively that it is sometimes hard to remember that this is a work of non-fiction, and not a psychological thriller. By the end of the film, however, we are left with some harsh realities that bring the real-world consequences of his actions to light.
The Imposter probably isn’t going to draw a tenth of the crowd that a Batman or Spider-man may have done this summer, but it more than deserves your attention. While it may seem strange sitting down to watch a documentary in the cinema after a summer of blockbuster action, adventure, animation and dancing, The Imposter is a wonderful piece of counter-programming that will leave chills long after the credits roll.