“The Imposter” is a mesmerizing con-artist comedy and a chilling true crime thriller, a French documentary built around actor recreations and revealing and yet mystifying real-life interviews with those involved
And what they were involved with is as hot-button sensational as any documentary ever. In 1994, a bratty blond working class boy named Nicholas Barklay disappeared in Texas. Three years later, a dark-haired young man with a French accent turned up in Spain, and said he was the missing boy.
Truth or fiction? Either way — and let’s face it, the title “Imposter” gives him away — this makes for a fascinating tale, rivetingly told.
The French-accented “Nick” tells his story, his fears, the way he came to be identified as a missing boy from Texas. He laughs at the happy accidents, the cunning, the police ineptitude and the doubt he sewed.
“If there is doubt, then I’ve got a chance,” he remembers. He told a tale of sex slavery, of U.S. military officials kidnapping kids in Texas for a child sex slave trade. It’s either the most sensational crime expose in recent history, or a fantasy built on an unspeakably cruel blizzard of lies.
Director Bart Layton interviews Nick’s San Antonio family — rough around the edges, and in the middle. But grieving people, still dealing with a tragedy, in any event.
“His disappearance never made the news,” his mother says. “It was just news to us.”
And we meet, or see in reenactments, law enforcement and embassy staff, in Spain and the U.S., trying to figure out if this guy’s story is legit, waiting for the kid’s family to settle the matter once and for all.
“The Imposter,” opening Friday at the Enzian, has a few clearcut villains, and one hero — a Texas private eye who was willing to state the obvious, even if he couldn’t figure out everybody’s motives for saying/maintaining what they did. Charlie Parker’s every scene in “The Imposter” is a comic jolt. “The Emperor has no clothes” is what he’s saying. “Even if the F.B.I. says he does.”
Layton maintains a faintly chilling tone, from start to finish. “Imposter” feels like an Erroll Morris documentary, with people telling their version of the truth directly to the camera, and a narrative full of blind alleys and red herrings. Like the characters in the film, it’s a little hard to know where the truth lies and when the film and filmmaker are being straight with us.
But that’s what makes “The Imposter” so engrossing. It’s a puzzle in which we’re given the clues slowly, the same way the people living through it experienced them. And figuring it out is only half the fun.
MPAA Rating: R for some sexuality and violence
Cast: Frederic Bourdin, Adam O’Brian, Carey Gibson, Beverly Dollarhide, Charlie Parker
Credits: Directed by Bart Layton. A Film 4/A&E Indie Films release.
Running time: 1:35