Nearly two decade ago in 1994, 13-year-old Nicholas Barclay went missing from his San Antonio home. Three years later he surfaced in Spain with brown hair, brown eyes, and a French accent claiming to have been abducted and involved in a child prostitution ring where he was raped and tortured by military officials. After having his identity confirmed by FBI agents and his own sister, the two traveled back to the United States, returning “Nicholas” to his home. The person claiming to be Nicholas Barclay admitted to having nothing in common with him “except two hands with five fingers on each one,” but continued to live with the Barclay family as they convinced themselves that his traumatic experience was the reason for his change in temperament and appearance. The Imposter is a detailed account of the events leading up the stranger’s appearance and the aftermath of his deception, told by the real life Barclay family, detectives who worked the case, and the imposter himself.
The Imposter is an exceptional documentary that takes great influence from the innovative and renowned documentarian, Errol Morris. Morris, who changed the game for documentaries and even saved a man from death row with his 1988 documentary The Thin Blue Line, heavily utilizes reenactments in his films along with dramatic cuts and framing devices to give depth to his stories so that viewers have a genuine cinematic experience rather than just watching talking heads contrasted against slow zooms into photographs. The Imposter director Bart Layton borrows heavily from Morris’ style while still being able to make his own unique project.
The story of Nicholas’ disappearance and the fraud that followed is an unbelievably spellbinding one as the person claiming to be Nicholas captured the hearts of America with his return, seen in various news reports within the film. Although the story itself is enticing, it’s Layton’s methods of telling the story that makes The Imposter so remarkable. Scenes of first person interviews, authentic video footage, and dramatic reenactments are beautifully intertwined through exceptional editing and match cuts. The edits also work in a way that prompts chills at the callous apathy the imposter himself tends to display while smirking at things being said.
You’ve got to be crazy to NOT trust this face…
Everything about The Imposter is admirable, from its delivery and the fantastic cinematography that reflects the dark ominous mood of the story to the tight framing that Layton chooses to use on certain characters. The film’s narrative allows the pacing of the story to quickly gain momentum, snowballing into something greater as more information is gradually revealed. The Imposter made the hairs on the back on my neck stand up, and I found myself getting anxious and jittery processing what was being unloaded in front of me– well the coffee I chugged before the film was a factor in that too. Moreover, I can’t count how many times I shockingly whispered “oh my god” with every new twist and turn that took place.
Baseball cap, check; bookbag, check; missing kid’s identity, check. Time to head back to school!
The story itself is already a mind-boggling one, but Layton’s exploration into the lives of this imposter and the family that took him in makes the events and its aftermath even more astonishing. It explores the depths of manipulation and makes you question everything you’ve learned by the film’s end. With the recent release of Compliance, a film based on the real story of a prank caller who convincing dozens of restaurant managers to physically, emotionally, and sexually degrade specific employees, now is a good time to see films full of psychological discussions of human reasoning.. Was the Barclay family so emotionally distraught that they were willing to believe a blatant lie without logic, or was their acceptance of the fraud part of some greater ploy or desire to be taken advantage of? The Imposter is the type of the film that not only makes you think, but could also probably single-handedly be the reason the case of Nicholas Barclay is reopened.
Take a Drink: every time the edits between interviews and reenactments blow your mind.
Take a Drink: every time “The Imposter” downright creeps you out.
Take a Drink: every time you have a “wtf?” moment at the story
Take a Drink: every time you bob your head to a song (Doobie Brothers anyone?!)