In 1994, teenager Nicholas Barclay disappeared from his Texas home. Three years later, someone claiming to be the missing teen was found in Spain.
The Imposter is a fascinating story, not only because a French man – Frederic Bourdin – convinced many people that he was the missing American teenager, but the mysteries that surround this story. Barclay’s family, government officials and Bourdin himself were interviewed for the film, which combines their stories with reconstructed footage for the sake of drama.
The story is this; by 1997, Bourdin had a history of impersonations, and carried out his latest one in Spain. Bourdin always pretended to be a teenager in order to win sympathy, but the children’s home that he was put into demanded that he prove he was American, as he said. A series of phone conversations gave Bourdin the information he needed in order to pretend he was Nicholas Barclay, but the situation quickly spiralled out of his control.
On screen, Bourdin appears surprisingly frank about the lengths he went to in order to pass as Nicholas Barclay. His testimony is both thrilling and frightening, and the audience may find themselves swinging from empathy to utter fear of the man on screen. Barclay’s family members vary in their testimonies; Nicholas’s half sister Carey seems sincere when she says that she was utterly convinced by Bourdin, but Nicholas’s mother Beverly Dollarhyde does not come off as genuine as her daughter, and it is not surprising when the finger of suspicion begins to point at her.
Director Bart Layton has woven together a thrilling crime story out of the facts of the case and the testimonies of those involved. Interviews and dramatised footage are delicately balanced, with some clever crossovers throughout. It is only when the story moves away from Bourdin that it begins to lose focus and clarity. Some mysteries are never solved, but this is part of the gripping and charming nature of the film. That said, there are some issues with the film that don’t quite sit with the tone, and although all of this information is in the public domain, one has to wonder about the ethics of implicitly accusing a family of murder.
In all, The Imposter tells a fascinating story and manages to uncover the motivations of many of the leading players. The film does lose focus in the end, but it is so well crafted that this does not immediately matter. The Imposter is a smart and gripping documentary that leaves the audiences curious and discussing the film hours later.