My first thought after watching “The Imposter”was that I had to think back to my seventeen year old self back in 1995 and try to remember if I had heard about the news story or not. Even though the event took place in Texas and I was all the way on the East coast, I can’t remember hearing anything about it. That is astonishing to me because this has to be one of the greatest and most perplexing con stories of all time. After watching this film, I was glad I never heard of it because it created an engaging movie experience that kept me enthralled throughout the entire running time. Much of the credit goes to director Bart Layton as he conveys the story with dreamlike images and editing.
The film details the events around a missing 13 year old boy named Nicolas Barclay from Texas on June 13th, 1994. He came from a loving family and everyone knew everyone else in the small town that he lived. Three years later, a homeless boy was found in southern Spain claiming to be the missing Nicolas Barclay. Though the physical appearance of the found boy was not completely consistent with the way he looked three years earlier, his family welcomed him back with open arms claiming it to be a miracle. The family chalks it up to his body going through puberty from age 13 to 17 and the physical trauma of being abducted and tortured. Having a timid demeanor and wearing a hooded sweatshirt concealing most of his face when he is back home, the family figures Nicolas is distressed and is hiding behind the bulky clothes. They never would have thought what the real story was. Mentioning anything more would only be a disservice to the readers.
Aside from the natural intrigue of the story, the structure of the documentary is equally engaging. Interspersing real life interviews of the family members along with dramatized reenactments of the events creates a fantastic arrangement of cinematic immersion. Frederic Bourdin is a fascinating study and actor Adam O’brian portrays him particularly well. In his interviews he is surprising candid and affable leading to the viewer welcoming his point of view. Editing is also well done. Many times during the sporadic interviews with Bourdin, as he is talking we will gesticulate and suddenly it will be O’brian mimicking the same movement in a different shot, help melding real person to his dramatized character. Layton uses dreamlike imagery and off-centered camera shots to give a surreal quality to the images. The strongest imagery in the film is actual VHS footage of Bourdin/Nicolas coming off the plan and the family greeting him for the first time in 4 years. Not only is it real footage but he uses the poor quality of the VHS to play with the images, pausing on the tracking blurriness to create tension.
Presented in a 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer, the picture has a nice sharpness to it for Standard DVD of a modestly budgeted film. There is quite a bit of artistic style taken by director Bart Layton. The color palette is desaturated with a large teal push helping to create a dreamlike image. There are also moments of intentional blurriness accentuating the imagery. There seems to be no post production tampering in attempts to make the image sharper than it is. Overall, this is a fine looking DVD presentation that closely resembles the director’s intentions.
“The Imposter” is offers a nicely controlled Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track. Dialogue is always clean and well centered. The many UK and Texas accents are never lost or hard to understand outside of their natural ability to sound different. The few moments songs are played, they stand out with clarity and accuracy. There are many subtle musical cues throughout the entire film. Bass has a nice presence during the dramatic portions of the film when there is a underlying drone that helps exacerbate the tension. There is also a Dolby Digital 2.0 track that lacks punch due to no LFE support.
There is only one extra but it is a must watch for anyone who enjoyed the film. It is a fascinating 40 minute “Behind the Scenes” featurette that digs deep into exactly what Layton wanted to accomplish with the material. Between him and Poppy Dixon, who co-produced the film, there was a tremendous amount research done to get the facts correct. Another captivating element of the extra is hearing Adam O’Brian speak about what he did to prepare to play Bourdin, how he studied his mannerisms and way of speaking. All three involved accomplished exactly what they wanted to accomplish. Again, if you end up liking the film, this is a must watch.
“The Imposter” is a thoroughly engaging look into one of the biggest cons ever pulled. Just when you think the story will get too incredulous, there are revelations that ground the account in plausibility. Layton and O’Brian are a very effective pairing for his project as each of them show dedication and energy. For standard DVD the video and audio are strong and come off naturally. Not only that but the DVD has an equally mesmerizing single extra that makes up for the lack of others. If you have any interest in documentary films, this one comes highly recommended.