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The Imposter

September 10, 2012

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. Although obviously not the real Nicholas Barclay, the person claiming to be him, who admits to having nothing in common with Nicholas “except two hands with five fingers on each one,” 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 attention 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 it 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 through frequent cuts of him smirking at things being said.

Everything about The Imposter is admirable, from its delivery, 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 gradually into a mass heap of incredible information. The Imposter made the hairs on the back on my neck stand and I found myself getting anxious and jittery as I processed 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.

The story itself is already a mind-boggling one, but Layton’s exploration into the lives of the imposter and the family that took him in makes the events and its aftermath even more astonishing by exploring the depths of manipulation, making 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, psychological discussions of human reasoning has become the forefront of these films. Was the Barclay family so emotionally distraught that they were willing to believe a blatant lie without logical reasoning 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 probably single-handedly be the reason the case of Nicholas Barclay is reopened.

SEE IT. And become engrossed in the bizarre story.

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