The Imposter poses as a dramatic thriller hidden within the confinements of a documentary. Nicholas Barclay, raised in San Antonio, Texas. A streetwise boy mysteriously disappeared at the age of thirteen back in ‘94. The family left to grieve for his absence, wondering the endless possibilities that could’ve been bestowed upon him. Run away? Kidnapped? Killed? Nicholas was never found. Fast forward three years later, the family receive a telephone call from the US embassy in Spain. “We’ve found Nicholas”, they confidently assure the Barclays. Overwhelmed with inexplicable emotions, Nicholas’ sister flies to Spain, which she initially thought was across the country and surprises herself that Coca Cola was available there too, and greets her missing brother with open arms. The individual hugging her though, was not Nicholas Barclay. A confidence trickster who maintains an extensive record of impersonating children, Frédéric Bourdin.
Thus begins Layton’s acute insight into documenting one of the most bizarre crimes to have ever taken place. First and foremost, this case is absolutely insane. One hundred percent unbelievable. Shocking, grotesque and occasionally sympathetic. For a man, whom was sever years older than Nicholas, exhibited a French accent, had dark brown hair and brown eyes (the complete opposite to the blue-eyed blonde Nicholas), and to get away with it for so long was, quite simply, astonishing. He fooled the Spanish police, US embassy, an FBI agent and, most importantly, Nicholas’ own family. The very people who knew him better than anyone else.
Layton’s documentary maintains a neutral standpoint by interviewing both Bourdin and the family members, provoking the audience to question who’s responsible for this indecorous crime. Bourdin for desiring an adequate childhood that he never received, for he consistently felt unaccepted in life? Or the family for apparently unknowingly accepting this imposter into their lives? Their is an underlying layer of sympathy for both entities that supplied each side with an abundance of investment, fully involving viewers into an enigmatic puzzle, courtesy of Layton’s intuitive interviews.
Despite the sheer lunacy of the case itself, this documentary feature does include many reservations that conflict with my own personal taste. The narrative unfolds chronologically, from Bourdin’s embellishment of Nicholas to the revelatory third act accusation thrown at the Barclays. With this in mind, footage was not available for every detail described in this case, consequently employing dramatisations of events. The problem is that Layton failed to balance the documentarian power of the interviews with the cinematic aesthetic of the recreations. Frequently, The Imposter resembled a fictitious feature with narration playing over the top, rather than extrapolating information from its compulsory discussions. It lessens the impact of the story through mediocre recreations commonly found in crime/journalism television shows such as ‘Watchdog’. This documentary solely focuses on illustrating the events that unfolded, yet rarely explored the emotional vulnerability of both parties. Sure, Nicholas’ sister and mother state “I was sad”, however the narrative swiftly moves onto the next plot point without blinking. Automatically hindering emotional vulnerability. Incredibly rapid, yet incidentally vacuous.
The Imposter sheds compelling light onto a seemingly implausible and relatively unknown case. Depicting the events through the narrative exploitation of a thriller, Layton certainly delivers extraordinary shocks and insight. Unfortunately though, it hosts qualities that conflict with my own personal taste when divulging into documentaries, lessening the staying power of its contents. Outstanding, just not for me.