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USA 2012
Directed by
Bart Layton
99 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3.5 stars

The Imposter

The Imposter tells such an unlikely story that it is hard not to believe that it is a mockumentary. In the mid-1990s in San Antonio, Texas, a thirteen-year-old boy, Nicholas Gibson, goes missing. Some four years later he turns up in Spain. His grieving family welcome him back to their bosom but when the F.B.I. begin investigating his alleged kidnapping things don’t add up. Eventually it turns out that he is a 23-year-old Frenchman known for assuming the identity of missing children.

Director Bart Layton doesn’t spin out the deception himself. We know pretty much from the get-go that Frédéric Bourdin was an imposter as he narrates his story which Layton fleshes out with slick visualizations and cross-cuts with interviews with Nicholas's family and various people involved in the investigation. The fascination of the story is how a 23 year old Mediterranean male with dark hair and brown eyes and a heavy accent who had never set foot in America was accepted as a 16 year old blond-haired, blue-eyed boy by the Spanish police, the FBI and the missing boy’s own family. Gullibility, stupidity and perhaps darker reasons emerge as explanations but the mystery is how could it have ever started, let alone gone on for so long.

Layton interviews Nicholas's mother, sister, and brother-in-law, all of whom claim to have been deceived by Bourdin. Their seeming sincerity is at complete odds with any credible reality. Maybe the Spanish police could have been fooled and the investigating FBI agent seems remarkably naive but it is impossible to believe that after a mere four year absence anyone would accept someone so manifestly different as their own child or brother.  Once Bourdin is exposed he tries to play victim accusing his erstwhile family of trying to cover up their own involvement in Nicholas’s disappearance. It certainly is a plausible scenario, but, of course, Bourdin is a pathological liar,

Whatever the truth about Nicholas's disappearance, The Imposter certainly presents an intriguing story – of human gullibility and deceptiveness and the difficulty of knowing where one ends and the other begins.

DVD Extras: Director's commentary; Making of featurette; Podcasts; Theatrical trailer.

Available from: Madman




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