The Imposter

The Imposter
Released in 2012
Director: Bart Layton
Genre: Documentary
Picturehouse Entertainment

This is an interactive movie. You don’t know it is while you’re watching it, and you may not realise it after you’ve seen it. If you’re like me, you’ll find that two days later you’re on your commute to work and you suddenly stop thinking about what you’re going to have for lunch, or if your co-worker is going to say/do something annoying, because it just hit you.

You got played.

The movie, or at least one specific person in that movie, has sold you on an idea. And he has sold it so well that you believe it fully even though the idea is incomprehensibly evil.

Let’s go back to the start. This documentary is about the crimes of Frederic Bourdin, a French conman who, in 1997, was discovered to have taken the place of missing child Nicholas Barclay, a 13-year-old who vanished in 1994. He lived with the Barclay family, spoke to the FBI about his kidnapping and ordeal, and appeared on television talking about his joy at having been rescued and reunited with his family. The documentary follows the case from Nicholas’s disappearance to Bourdin’s eventual unveiling.

Director Bart Layton presents all of this with a mix of archive footage, dramatic re-enactments, and talking heads. We hear from most of the Barclay family, some government officials, a private-eye and, most crucially, Bourdin himself.

Bourdin presents his own story in his own words, staring directly into camera as though confiding his crimes to you and you alone. He is unrepentant and calm, recounting the many hoops he had to jump through to create this fantasy and to sell it to a vast amount of people.

He is charming, funny, honest, and guiltless. He talks as though his crime isn’t the worst thing about this story. He is more than happy to side with the audience with their confusion about how the Barclays could not see that this man who was seven years older than their missing family member, and who had a foreign accent, and different coloured eyes was obviously a fake. He spins webs around his own stories and in the minds of the viewer until you are in his thrall.

This is an incredible movie that moves you into position and plays with your perceptions. Having Bourdin present his story in a sort of confessional is a masterstroke that sets this movie apart. A lot of other documentaries just tell a story, but The Imposter shows you how easy it is to be tricked by a con man.