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The Imposter (2012) DVD Review

The Imposter (2012) movie poster The Imposter

US Theatrical Release: July 13, 2012 / Running Time: 99 Minutes / Rating: R

Director: Bart Layton / Tagline: There are two sides to every lie.

Interview Subjects: Frédéric Bourdin, Carey Gibson, Beverly Dollarhide, Charlie Parker, Nancy B. Fisher, Bryan Gibson, Philip French, Bruce D. Perry, Codey Gibson, Allie Hostetler, Kevin Hendricks /
Reenactment Cast: Adam O'Brien (Frédéric Bourdin), Anna Ruben (Carey Gibson), Cathy Dresbach (Nancy B. Fisher), Alan Teichman (Charlie Parker), Ivan Villanueva (Social Worker), Maria Jesus Hoyos (Judge), Anton Marti (Male Police Officer), Amparo Fontanet (Female Police Officer), Ken Appledorn (Vice Consul)

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In December, The Imposter made the Oscars' shortlist of fifteen movies competing for the Best Documentary Feature award. Last Thursday, though, it was not among the five nominees selected to vie for that honor. That is regrettable because this is one of 2012's best films, documentary or otherwise, and deserves all the recognition it can get.

The Imposter tells an unbelievable true story. In June 1994, 13-year-old Nicholas Patrick Barclay of San Antonio, Texas disappeared. In October 1997, Barclay's family was alerted that the missing boy had been found in Linares, Spain.
That isn't the true part. The individual claiming to be 16-year-old Nicholas was in fact Frédéric Bourdin, a 23-year-old Frenchman who made the unconscionable decision to pose as the missing child.

This film gives us the perspectives of both the charming con man Bourdin and the uneducated family he bizarrely managed to fool. With brown hair, brown eyes, and a French accent, Bourdin bore little resemblance to the blue-eyed blonde Nicholas. As Bourdin recalls with no shortage of pride, he took some steps to resemble the boy, bleaching his hair blonde and getting the tattoos described on the official missing persons report. Still, it's tough to believe anyone could see the little Texas boy inside this grown French man, even accounting for puberty and the kind of trauma Bourdin invented of being abducted by military and sold into an international sex slavery ring, where he was regularly raped and forced to speak French.

A photograph shows Nicholas Barclay, a boy from San Antonio, Texas who went missing in June of 1994. A not particularly repentant Frederic Bourdin recalls the elaborate deceptions that earned him a jail sentence and the nickname The Chameleon.

The glaring inconsistencies should be most apparent to Nicholas' family, but they are not. The missing boy's married adult sister, Carey Gibson, flew to the Spanish children's shelter where quiet, habitual liar Bourdin had been placed and identified the imposter as her brother. With that hurdle incomprehensibly cleared, the rest of the cards soon fell into place, with Bourdin's story being accepted by officials, who arrange for a quick return home to Texas. Carey's husband and Nicholas' very own mother welcome their loved one back with open arms, the runway "reunion" even amazingly documented on a degraded camcorder video.

Incredibly, Bourdin would spend over four months living with Nicholas' family and attending high school without raising any major suspicions, as everyone tried to respectfully allow him to recover from his horrendous trauma without prying into the specifics of his torture and changes. It took Texas private investigator Charlie Parker, a character who seems to have wandered over from a Coen Brothers movie set, to start asking the obvious questions and looking into Bourdin's dubious claims.

So much about this story is tough to believe: that someone would prey upon a family in this way, that the family would be gullible enough to fall for such an unlikely charade, that this could occur fifteen years ago without it becoming a famous case and national attention-getter the way that fascinating episodes like those involving D.B. Cooper and Baby Jessica did.

This breathtaking footage shows the Beverly Dollarhide, the mother of missing boy Nicholas Barclay welcoming home her son -- really Frederic Bourdin, hiding behind sunglasses, a hat, and a scarf -- at the airport on October 18, 1997.

Director Bart Layton and producer Dimitri Doganis appear to have hit the jackpot with this subject matter. They take their good fortune and pay it forward, rewarding viewers with one of the most compelling and riveting presentations of any documentary. Attaching that genre label to The Imposter feels like somewhat of a disservice, because the film resembles a narrative work in its strong cinematic structure and intense dramatic effect. Part of that lies in Layton's inspired use of re-enactments with wonderful photography and spectacular casting.
So convincing is Welsh actor Adam O'Brian as Bourdin that you think you're seeing the same sociopath once wanted by Interpol (and eventually imprisoned) shamelessly recreating his deft deceits.

You needn't feel uneasy about potentially celebrating and at the very least immortalizing the heartless deceptions of Bourdin. Despite the playful and seductive nature of his spirited confessions and the sob story motives he gives about being unloved and never having a childhood, Bourdin still emerges as a monster, his tall tale having some holes and his reflections lacking remorse.

That said, the other interview subjects don't come off all that much better. The movie shows more than it tells regarding Nicholas' family. It's clear that ignorance runs deep in this clan and that by age 13 Nicholas wasn't the sweet innocent boy that the only surviving home movies of him show. Tales of sibling rivalry and regular police visits for domestic violence, as well as the fact that Nicholas has tattoos barely into his teen years are revealing. As is the passing mention of serious drug problems.

Welsh actor Adam O'Brien is a dead ringer for Frederic Bourdin in the film's cinematic reenactments. Charlie Parker, a Texas private eye who feels like a Coen Brothers character, continues to dig for the truth in Nicholas Barclay's still mysterious disappearance.

Still, no family that has lost a kid could ever deserve the ruse that this one got. Your heart aches for these people even as you are dumbfounded by their gullibility and struggle to calculate the roles that grief and hope could have possibly played. It doesn't seem coincidental or trivial that Nicholas' family members have aged far more dramatically since the period in question than the balding yet still boyish Bourdin, despite spending some of those years in prison, has.

The Imposter is rated R strictly for language; it features numerous uses, some quite passionate, of the F-word.

The Imposter (2012) DVD cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com DVD Details

2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Dolby Digital 5.1 (English), Dolby Stereo 2.0 (English)
Subtitles: None
Closed Captioned; Extras Not Subtitled or Captioned
Release Date: January 22, 2013
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (DVD-9)
Suggested Retail Price: $19.97
Black Keepcase
Also available on Amazon Instant Video


The Imposter adds to the small but growing number of wide aspect ratio documentaries. The DVD's 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation isn't without some issues. The newly-filmed material isn't as sharp and well-defined as you'd like. With no Blu-ray release in the cards, though, this will have to do and all but serious videophiles should approve.

Sound is offered in both Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0. I listened to the former, which tastefully opens up on a handful of well-picked song selections. Sadly, Indomina doesn't provide English subtitles, and their closed captions won't work for those watching via an HDMI cable.

A collage from "Making 'The Imposter'" tries to put all the pieces together in the puzzling disappearance of Nicholas Barclay and subsequent deception of Frederic Bourdin. The San Antonio Police Department's missing persons report for Nicholas Barclay is among the 21-page PDF document of case files accessible with a scan of the disc's QR code.


The DVD's primary bonus feature is "Making The Imposter" (41:30), a long documentary that is nearly as engaging as the feature presentation. It covers all the relevant bases in frank and logical fashion, including: the filmmakers' transition from television to theatrical fare, the use of a script and even storyboards resembling a narrative film, the need to get both perspectives, finding the family and persuading them to get on board,

conveying things visually, casting actors for the re-enactments, staging those and giving them a dreamlike quality, attempting to redefine documentaries with overbudget ambition, making the most of limited archival material and other editing tricks, and creating a suitable score. While you may regret the lack of an audio commentary, deleted/extended bits, and the full "Hard Copy" and "20/20" reports teasingly excerpted in the film, this making-of featurette is top-notch company well worthy of a viewing.

Beyond that, we also kindly get The Imposter's intriguing original theatrical trailer (2:32).

Finally, in a thoughtful and creative move, the disc's label includes a QR code which takes you to a website supplying a PDF document containing some of the countless police and FBI files pertaining to the case that the filmmakers secured with a Freedom of Information Act request. Those without a smart phone or barcode scanner app might wish that the 22-page document was also made available on the disc for easy DVD-ROM access. Even with many details redacted, this engrossing material -- police reports, international faxes, passport requests, an arrest warrant -- corroborates the film's claims and hammers home the reality of this unbelievable case and the time and efforts wasted by Bourdin's act.

The disc opens with menu-inaccessible trailers for Something from Nothing: The Art of Rap, Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame, Outcast, The Pack (La meute), Devil's Playground and Flying Swords of Dragon Gate 3D.

The main menu plays scored clips on a screen shattered like the title logo. Most of the submenus are static and silent. The standard black keepcase is not joined by any inserts or a slipcover.

Sympathetic big sister Codey Gibson recounts being the first and most extensively duped of Nicholas' relatives. The ears don't lie: Charlie Parker's Photoshop sleuthing confirms the seemingly obvious differences between the young Nicholas Barclay and the adult Frederic Bourdin, seen here in a frame from a deceitful television interview.


While The Imposter may be a documentary, it has all the makings of a first-rate piece of fiction cinema: fascinating characters, creative visuals, an absolutely spellbinding plot, and heart-pounding suspense. Those elements help this extraordinary work rival the best that contemporary film has to offer. It is highly unusual to encounter a non-fiction film with so much human interest and dramatic power. Bart Layton and his crew have done a fantastic job of bringing this bizarre true story to life in the most gripping fashion imaginable.

If you see just one documentary from last year, make it be this one. Even with your expectations raised by my praise, I can't imagine you not being captivated by this great achievement in filmmaking.

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Reviewed January 17, 2013.

Text copyright 2013 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 2012 Indomina Studios, A & E Indie Film, Film 4, Channel 4, Red Box Films, Passion Pictures, and 2013 Vivendi Entertainment.
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