Susan Granger's review of 'The Imposter'
This compelling psychological thriller intercuts interviews with dramatizations to relate the almost unbelievable-but-true story of a 23-year-old French Algerian who assumed the identity of a teenager from Texas.
In 1994, a 13-year-old boy named Nicholas Barclay disappeared on his way home near San Antonio, Texas. His family assumed that he was picked up by a stranger, abducted and killed. But they lived with uncertainty until -- three and a half years later -- they got a call informing them that a boy had been found in Linares, Spain, who claimed to be Nicholas.
Smirking 23-year-old Fredric Bourdin was a clever con man who, seeking safe asylum, contacted U.S. police stations, inquiring about missing children. When he learned about Nicholas Barclay, he dyed his hair blond, gave himself the same tiny, distinguishing tattoos that were described on the missing child and concocted a credible kidnapping story, describing how he'd been sold into an international child sex ring, where he was tortured, forced to endure experimentation that changed his eye color and not allowed to speak English. The fact that he was a brown-eyed French-Algerian impersonating a blue-eyed American didn't seem to deter the Barclay family, Child Protective Services, the U.S. Embassy staff in Madrid, the news media and the F.B.I.
Directed by Bart Layton, it's a suspenseful docudrama, featuring dramatized re-enactments, that's based on a 2008 "New Yorker" article by David Grann. Layton was intrigued by contradictory recollections and insinuating, inconsistent reports by various members of the Barclay family, who welcomed manipulative Bourdin into their home. The question is -- why were family members so easily fooled, or were they, perhaps, responsible for Nicholas's disappearance -- or worse? That's what intrigues grizzled Texas private detective Charlie Parker, who catches on to the smug, unrepentant pretender, asserting, "If you let a guy like that talk, he'll show himself to be a monster. He's a scary little bastard."
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "The Imposter" is a strange, intriguing 8, searching for that elusive essence known as "the perfect truth."