Saturday, 18 May 2013

Film Review | The Imposter (2012)

The Imposter isn't one of those documentaries, such as 2010's Inside Job, that relates an account of an event which is simply too important not to be told. The Imposter's story is the very definition of truth being stranger than fiction, a tale of the unexpected that in reality only genuinely affected a handful of people but that is so out there as to be utterly compelling for anyone hearing it. But having irresistible subject matter isn't enough for a documentary to succeed. Thankfully, The Imposter has a lot more going for it than just its story.

Deserving of first mention is the film's primary talking head, Frédéric Bourdin, the man who managed to pass himself off as seventeen year old Texan Nicholas Barclay, missing since he was thirteen, even though Bourdin was actually twenty four, French and had several other notably different features to Nicholas. Bourdin is enigmatic whenever on camera, simultaneously charming and despicable; you'll find yourself willingly drawn into his version of events through his swaggering patter, despite the fact that the film regularly reminds you either overtly or subtly that the man you are watching and listening to is a habitual liar and swindler. All moralistic questions aside, director Bart Layton has struck on a consistently compelling screen presence in Bourdin.

Layton's choices elsewhere also work incredibly well. Dramatic reenactments of real events can at times feel jarring in documentaries, but thankfully this is never the case here. Layton's direction feels stylish and highly crafted throughout the recreated scenes making them much more than the perfunctory afterthoughts sometimes seen in lesser documentary efforts. The casting of Adam O'Brian as the younger Bourdin in these segments is also uncannily accurate and incredibly effective.

Elsewhere in the film Layton makes some expert choices which belie this being his debut feature-length documentary. The only voices we hear are those of the people involved, meaning that the way Layton allows the story to unfold feels incredibly organic and without agenda. And yet the director is clearly in control throughout, crafting his film in the style of a thriller or crime drama. Layton only occasionally allowing himself to linger on slightly unnecessary elements a little too long - a sequence focused on how Bourdin felt attending an American school, for example, feels out of place and uncharacteristically schmaltzy in tone. Any issues however are minor, seldom seen and easily forgiven. This is a captivating and high quality documentary which tells a fascinating tale with genuine skill.


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