Movie Review: “The Imposter”

   I have never dabbled in documentaries prior on Nightmare Shift, but that is not because a lack of interest. Truth is, I dig a lot of documentaries, especially related to true-crime or otherwise intriguing, bizarre subject-matter. Not only are they interesting to watch, but they are informative and educational, whether it be as an individual studying the human condition, or a writer who wants to make informed, articulate assessments on why an individual may act a certain way or make a certain decision.

   On one occasion, I even thought about having Readers Digested house true-crime analysis and discussion, a consideration I eventually thought better of. As much as I may have enjoyed Crime Library (dot) com, for instance, the grisly real-life content was something I felt like I was not in a position to allocation the appropriate amount of dedication or commitment. After all, it is important. Making certain you aren’t talking out your rear-end or coming off less informative to curious onlookers and more offensive to the victims that suffered at the hands of whoever you’re writing an article about.  Not to mention, the now non-existent Crime Library website apparently had a mailbox full of lawsuits to contend with that I simply could not fend off the way a major company like TruTV could.

   Nevertheless, I would love to talk with all of you and share my opinion on some of the more interesting documentaries I have seen, both as a way to bring attention to stories I think are particularly different, and, also, highlight the best documentation of said event. After all, I know I can’t be the only one that is a real stickler about certain facets and how they can make or break a documentary. I can’t tell you how many times I have heard a narrator speak melodramatically about “what makes a criminal mind,” and shut it off. Other elements like a documentary’s level of production or when they are a little too cutesy with their cinematics can also factor into the equation.

   The Imposter is a 2012 British-American documentary film directed by Bart Layton that focuses on the 1997 case of the French confidence trickster Frédéric Bourdin. If you are unfamiliar with Bourdin – basically, he was an impersonator who assumed the identity of at least five-hundred different people across his “tenure”. The most infamous among them was his impersonation of Nicholas Barclay. Nicknamed “The Chameleon,” our imposter convinces French authorities he was, not only a minor (at the age of 23), but a Texan who disappeared when he was thirteen-years-old.

   The film carries a meticulous level of production and does opt for a more cinematic approach, but is one of the instances where I found that it really benefitted the narrative told and made it a memorable, insightful interpretation of the 1997 case and the perpetrator himself. This is because the documentary is heavily told by Frédéric Bourdin, who offers a range of emotions over the course of the production. Your reaction to what he says will be dependent on certain variables, but I was no doubt taken by his charismatic frankness and the sinister pride he is able to display throughout. I especially liked the sequences where he grinned at the camera for key moments, carrying a certain sarcastic, “troll” aesthetic to him, which makes him all the more mysterious and interesting to watch.

   During certain moments you might even empathize with him as well. As he explains more about himself, about his struggles, and about what he is looking for, I would not blame you for feeling a little bad for him. Of course, this is all dependent on whether you believe in the authenticity of what he says, or whether you believe the documentary in itself is nothing more than his latest performance. If nothing else, two variables are for certain: (1) no one who impersonates five-hundred different people is likely to be of sound mind and (2) seeing an act from a proven con-artist is a sight to behold.

   As Nicholas Barclay, Frédéric becomes acquainted with Nicholas’ family and offers his own speculative claims about what he believes may have happened to him. Whether his claims are substantial or not is something that remains to be seen, the speculation and happenstances surrounding the case are certainly and compelling, to say the least.

   Of course, given his actions and the aftermath, Frédéric is far from a trustworthy source of intel, and one should not be hasty in disregarding the victims, not only of Nicholas’ disappearance, but of Nicholas Barclay’s impersonation done by Frédéric. In no way does make strides at redemption in the documentary, instead, he may only potentially shine a light on something else that might be hidden away.

   Today, no official resolution has been made about Nicholas Barclay and what may have happened to him. His appearance was in 1994, at the age of thirteen, which would make him nearly forty-years-old, heightening the likelihood he met a tragic end. In that regard, The Imposter is a documentary without closure, which can be a difficult pill to swallow sometimes.

   However, because the portrayal and the central premise, the audacity of a twenty-three-year-old Frenchman successfully impersonating a seventeen-year-old Texas, fooling law-enforcement, and the family members, all told from the perspective of the man himself – The Imposter is tough to beat.

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