Sunday, June 24, 2012

“The Imposter”– Movie Review



This weekend, my movie class had a bonus screening of the documentary “The Imposter” – a story about a teenage boy who disappears, then miraculously is returned to his family years later … or is he?



In 1994, 13 year-old Nicholas Barclay from San Antonio, Texas mysteriously disappeared.  Despite the best efforts of his family and the police, he doesn’t turn up and after a while, is presumed dead.  Over three years later, a scared, homeless young man is found in Spain, claiming to be Nicholas.  After a thorough investigation by the American Embassy, the FBI and the Spanish authorities, they determine that this young man must be who he claims to be, so they contact his family to inform them that they have found the boy and that he is safely in their custody. 

But can everyone be sure?  Nicholas had blonde hair and blue eyes; this young man has dark hair, brown eyes and speaks with something of a French accent.  Furthermore, he appears to be a little bit older than Nicholas would be, having a bit of a beard growth, which also appears dark.  Nevertheless, Nicholas’ older sister Carey travels to Spain to bring home the young man who is believed to be her brother.  Convinced of his identity, Carey tries to jog his memory by showing him photos taken before his disappearance, carefully reminding him of the various friends and relatives from his past. 

Despite the stark differences in his appearance, speech and behavior, the entire family – including and especially Nicholas’ own mother – decide to believe that this young man is their long lost boy upon his arrival in San Antonio.  Learning of this fantastic story, a television show hires the services of a private investigator to track down the young man and his family so they can research his background and interview him  on their program.  But when the private investigator suspects something, it forces the FBI to revisit the case.  Will their discovery wind up sending potentially innocent people to prison? 



When reviewing a movie, I try to do my best to avoid including spoilers or revealing the ending; my intent, generally, is to help you to decide on your own whether or not to see any given motion picture, regardless of my opinion (honest it is!).  With “The Imposter”, however, it becomes a bit of a challenge because the entire thing is a spoiler.  Even the title itself almost gives the story away – but not quite.  At the outset of the film, you feel pretty confident that you know who The Imposter is – but by the end, you are left asking the question, “Who was the real imposter here?”

Through a series of interviews, home movies and re-creations, the tale of this missing person is masterfully told in a way that demands the viewer increasingly suspend disbelief – and it is only because you know that the story is totally true that you become willing to do so.  If this had been made into a dramatic movie – like “Six Degrees Of Separation” or “Catch Me If You Can” – this account of serial misrepresentation would be deemed as so improbable that no one would ever buy its premise; but it is precisely because these are real people who lived out this situation that you give yourself permission to believe, even with lingering doubts. 

Following the screening, our instructor interviewed the director of “The Imposter”, Bart Layton.   Layton said he decided to make this documentary not when hearing about this particular incident, but by learning of the individual who was believed to be the imposter himself; eventually, after researching this guy extensively, Layton learned about the Texas family and chose to focus the film on that single episode.  While interviewing the imposter, Layton said he found himself having to be on guard so as not to be fooled or manipulated as were many of his other victims. 



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