Director: Bart Layton
Runtime: 99 minutes
One of the most harrowing tragedies that can happen to any family is dealing with a missing child. The pain and anguish of not knowing what could have happened to their loved one is unimaginable except to those who have experienced it firsthand. But what if suddenly a call arrives from a foreign country, claiming to have the missing person in their possession, how would that family react?
Such is the focus of director Bart Layton’s The Imposter, a fascinating documentary that straddles the line between real life drama and a film noir narrative. Part of what makes this experience so unique is the masterful weaving between interviewing subjects and gleefully creating highly stylized re-enactments that heighten suspense and tension effectively. There’s a manner in which Layton subverts the audience’s normally complacent role of viewing into an active role of trying to comprehend the truth.
Following the tragic disappearance of Nicholas Barclay, a 13-year-old Texan boy, we jump four years later on a different continent. A young man is searching for rebirth and a new identity after being on the run from the law for several years. After being taken into custody by Spanish officials, this mystery man has no choice left but to attempt to assume the identity of someone he doesn’t know, in order to escape jail time.
Cornered in an office overnight before being forced to prove his name, we are led to his discovery of a missing boy from Texas, Nicholas Barclay, and a decision that will not only change his life but affect an entire family he never knew. This is only where the twists and turns begin, as the real life story unfolds into an international thriller forcing audiences to question the evidence they are presented like clues to a mystery.
Due to limited archival footage from the actual time period of the events, aside from a few well-used pieces of home video, the film is largely told through Errol Morris-style interviews, with the subjects speaking directly to the camera. Cleverly borrowing some style in the re-enactments reminiscent of Man on Wire (it’s no surprise that executive producer Simon Chinn worked on both films), Layton cleverly shows off his chops as a filmmaker.
By creating gripping compositions that ebb and flow nicely into the voices of the characters, there is a constant feeling of tension and unease that will stick with you long after the final credits roll. There is also a level of manipulation akin to the Banksy documentary Exit Through The Gift Shop, and our title subject bares some odd similarities to the paranoid ramblings of Mr. Brainwash.
Ultimately Layton wants to lay out the facts of this outlandish case as engaging as he can, in hopes of creating conversations around the undeniable and universal human questions the story presents. How far can the human soul push logic aside in favor of hope? These are large themes at play that underscore the real human drama unfolding before your eyes. There is a slight reality TV quality to the drama that may cheapen the experience for some, yet Layton should be applauded for elevating the material into a realm of compelling cinema, as The Imposter is one of the most intriguing documentaries of the year.
The Imposter hits theaters on July 13th.
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