Film Review – The Imposter

The Imposter

Directed by: Bart Layton

Starring:Frederic Bourdin, Carey Gibson, Beverly, Dollarhide

Five stars

Review by: Julian Wright

The saying “truth is stranger than fiction” is an old one, and yet it could easily have been first used in the 1990s as a direct reference to the bizarre, jaw droppingly astonishing story of one family that is stricken with grief when a young member goes missing, only for him to resurface years later in another country. Or so they thought. Whoever coined that now famous phrase may have seen many things that defied logic and yet were still 100 per cent fact. They never got the chance to see this story.

Thirteen-year-old Nicholas Barclay, who lived in a small Texas town, disappeared without a trace in 1994 on his way home from playing after school sport. His mother Beverly and sister Carey went through the gamut of emotions – loss, anger, hope, determination to find him. His disappearance didn’t even make the news. It seemed no one was looking for him but his family.

Three years later they get a call from the authorities informing them that they may have found him. In Spain. Carey makes her first international flight to go pick him up. He is a little different to what she was expecting, but this young man says he is Nicholas and gives a harrowingly detailed account of years of physical, sexual and emotional abuse at the hands of his military captors and attributes his changed physical appearance to his experiences. Nicholas was blue eyed, this young man has brown eyes, and speaks with a French accent. Nevertheless, Carey is convinced he is her brother and brings him home. The family are slightly suspicious but his stories are convincing. And who would lie about such horrific dealings?

Apparently, 23-year-old Frederic Bourdin would lie about it. Bourdin managed to assume Nicholas’ identity, someone that was younger and didn’t look, sound or act like him at all and pull the wool over the eyes of the authorities in Spain, a gullible Texas family and the American FBI to weasel his way into the USA. Marvel in disbelieve as he explains how he came to choose Nicholas in the first place.

This is clearly a case of hindsight being 20/20 as you scoff at the glaring incompetence of all authorities involved and yet we believe that these people were convinced that Bourdin was Nicholas despite the screaming inconsistencies. But this is what makes the story a compelling, riveting watch. Had any of this been the invention of a Hollywood screenwriter, it would have been booed out of studio executive’s offices.

The plot gets thicker and crazier when private investigator Charlie Parker compares Nicholas and Bourdin’s ears (?!)  to discover something is not quite right and thinks he has hit pay dirt with an outrageous murder cover up theory. But there is more here than just shocking developments – it is a heartbreaking exploration of a vulnerable family so blinded by its desperation to have a missing loved one returned.

The Imposter cleverly unfolds in noir-ish crime thriller fashion and continually surprises. You can never guess where it is all heading. Bringing the undocumented parts of the story to life with re-enactments to fill gaps – some actors even lip synch to recorded audio clips – make for an ingenious storytelling technique. Director Bart Layton admirably gives everyone interviewed a fair go when it would be so easy to paint this family as small town dummies, the FBI as bumbling idiots and Bourdin as a raving psychopath. Bourdin proves to be the most fascinating criminal subject of a documentary since Aileen Wuornos. You haven’t heard anything stranger in any fiction story, but this is fact.

The Imposter screens as part of the Revelation Perth Film Festival on July 12 and 14.

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