Where: Vic Theatre
When: Tonight-Sun., 7 p.m.
MICHAEL D. REID
Talk about fact being stranger than fiction. Chances are that’s what you’ll do after seeing The Imposter, Bart Layton’s artfully suspenseful true crime documentary about a chain of events so bizarre, you’ll swear someone made the whole thing up.
That it’s a true story is what makes this riveting reflection on the 1994 disappearance of Nicholas Barclay, then 13, from his neighbourhood in San Antonio, Texas, and the missing teenager’s reunion with his family three years later so fascinating.
Especially since the fellow who was found in Spain three years later claiming to be Nicholas and recounting horrific tales of being held captive by child sex traffickers was Frederic Bourdin, a French-Algerian con man with a history of deception.
It’s not giving anything away to reveal what the filmmakers tell us from the start (hey, the movie’s called The Imposter) — that this was identity theft at its most extreme. Layton is more interested in exploring the whys and wherefores, chiefly the confounding reasons why Nicholas’s apparently dysfunctional family would welcome a stranger who has a French accent, is seven years older and bears little resemblance to their missing son, apart from a gap in his front teeth, into their home.
That Nicholas was a blue-eyed blond, while Bourdain was dark-haired, makes the ruse even more bizarre.
Is the missing teenager’s family in denial? Do they know something we don’t?
With developments like this, and there are more, The Imposter has a big wow factor once it draws you into its vortex.
It takes awhile for this to happen but once it does, trust me: You’ll be as hooked as a heroin addict craving his next fix.
While purists might object at first to Layton’s use of dramatic re-enactments to augment audiotapes, home video footage, input from players such as Nicholas’s sister Carey Gibson, who initially identified the stranger as her brother after travelling to Spain in 1997; his weary, gravel-voiced mother Beverly Dollarhide, an increasingly skeptical FBI agent and a folksy, old-school private detective who smells a rat, it effectively and inventively contributes to the elaborate telling of an amazing story.
Having the boastful charlatan editorialize as he recounts his story on-camera was a master stroke, if unsettling. Indeed, you’ll wonder whether this charismatic dude’s tales of his own sad upbringing, which he says motivated his behaviour, are also bogus.
The articulate poseur’s demeanour does make you understand why certain individuals and bureaucrats might have hesitated to question his motivation, not wanting to be insensitive toward an apparently traumatized young man’s cries for help.
Layton’s other playful touches, like having Bourdain’s declarations morph into dialogue mouthed by characters he’s talking about, or using clips from vintage TV police shows such as Kojak and McCloud, make The Imposter all the more mesmerizing.
While shocking revelations about this manipulative character’s machinations continue to the very end, don’t expect answers to a still-unsolved mystery. Do expect a cleverly crafted cautionary tale that will make you think twice when individuals in your own life make claims that seem too good to be true.
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