The Imposter– Movie Review
On June 13, 1994, 13-year-old Nicholas Barclay disappeared from San Antonio, Texas. Over three years later, he was found in Spain. But this man wasn’t Nicholas Barclay- and the documentary film The Imposter is pretty upfront about that fact. The Imposter draws it’s power not from this surprise; like a great thriller, it makes you sweat over how the story will reach it’s inevitable conclusion (the discovery of this lie). But the movie is more like a particularly chilling, well-produced episode of A&E’s (the production company responsible for the film) true crime shows. It’s a compelling and at times creepy portrait of a con man and a family in grief, but not a revelatory work of human nature.
The story of how the fake Nicholas Barclay got there is as meticulous and unbelievable as a cable police procedural. Watching the criminal mind of this real-life European trickster- and even, to some degree, his self-aggrandizing interviews- is a great guilty pleasure of the film. After researching missing children in the states, he assumes Barclay’s identity to evade Spanish authorities. He panics when he realizes he looks nothing like the blond-haired, blue-eyed boy, but Barclay’s family is so excited to find him, they overlook everything from his changed eye color to his thick French accent when he is returned home.
But after only a few months in the states, fake Barclay’s story begins to unravel. While an FBI agent initially buys his outlandish tale of abduction and sex slavery, medical authorities and a colorful private investigator finally cause the man to be brought in and the truth to come out.
The Imposter is a wonderfully edited and produced documentary; director Bart Layton uses reenactments more creatively, effectively, and entertainingly than any documentarian I can think of (I’m looking at you, Errol Morris).
But when it tries to pull deep meaning out of this bizzare tale, it comes up short. Like the theories on what actually happened to Nicholas Barclay, The Imposter provides some compelling evidence, but ultimately can’t provide the pay-off needed after all that suspenseful build-up.
Did you see The Imposter? What did you think?