THE IMPOSTER (R)

The Imposter (R)

 

Movie Info

Rating: * * * 

Director: Bart Layton.

Producer: Dimitri Doganis.

An Indomina Releasing release. Running time: 95 minutes. Vulgar language, adult themes. In Miami-Dade: O Cinema, Tower Theater, Miami Beach Cinematheque.


rrodriguez@MiamiHerald.com

In June 1994, Nicholas Barclay, a blond, blue-eyed 13-year-old from San Antonio, Texas, disappeared on his walk home from a basketball game with friends. Over the next three years, his family agonized over his fate. “You know you’re not going to find him alive, but you just want to find out what happened to him,” his older sister Carey, 31, says early in The Imposter.

Then, in 1997, comes an amazing break in the case, almost too amazing to be believed. Police in Linares, Spain, discover a boy huddled inside a phone booth, with no identification, reticent to talk and tell them how he got there. Eventually, he was sent to a shelter where he finally broke his silence, telling authorities his name is Nicholas Barclay, he was kidnapped three years ago by a child-trafficking ring and smuggled overseas. He had recently escaped his captors and was terrified. He just wanted to go home.

The title of Bart Layton’s quasi-documentary The Imposter, which mixes talking-head interviews with dramatic re-enactments of certain events, lets you know from the start the man is lying. But you’d doubt his story no matter what the film was called. Frédéric Bourdin, his real name, looked too old to be a teenager (he was 23 at the time), and his brown eyes and hair were nothing like Nicholas’. He also sported a thick French accent. Still, he was convincing enough to have the U.S. State Department fly his sister Carey to Spain to get him. At the airport, when they meet, you expect her to recoil and immediately expose him as a liar. Instead, she tearfully embraces him as her brother and brings him back home to Texas.

And then things get really weird. The story of Bourdin, a Tom Ripley-esque con artist who specialized in impersonating missing people and creating false identities for himself, made international news in 1998 when his sham in Texas was exposed and was sentenced to six years in prison. The fascinating aspect of The Imposter, though, is why the missing boy’s family believed his story. Nicholas’ mother, a woman with multiple health problems who worked the night shift at a convenience mart, accepted him blindly. His uncle Bryan, a seemingly shrewd and level-headed man, also bought the story.

Bourdin, who is interviewed in the film exuding an unmistakable air of pride and self-satisfaction, says he had an answer for everything. How had the color of his eyes and hair changed? His captors had poured acid on him. How about the French accent? From all the time he had spent overseas. Why did he need to have friends and relatives pointed out to him in old photos? The horrible ordeal he had endured had erased part of his memory. Even an FBI agent who poked at every detail in his story couldn’t find a flaw.

Most puzzling of all, though, is how the family didn’t immediately sense this man was not their missing son. The Imposter subtly argues that the Barclays, offered a way out of their perpetual grief, no matter how implausible, seized on it without dwelling too much on the details. Why would Bourdin pretend to be Nicholas, anyway? Certainly not for money (the family was lower middle-class) or prestige (San Antonio was much duller than his previous stomping grounds of Europe). Was he on the run from a crime, wanted by authorities? Had he come to Texas to find new prey?

Bourdin might have gotten away with the whole thing if not for Charlie Parker, a private investigator who became obsessed with the case and noticed that Bourdin’s ears looked nothing like Nicholas’ (ears are as unique as fingerprints). Parker’s inquiries lead The Imposter in a darker direction filled with sinister implications (and one possible solution to the case). But the detective was ultimately unable to find the boy, who remains missing.

Parker did, however, manage to put Bourdin away, who is seen near the end of the film dancing madly in what appear to be prison fatigues, deliriously happy for the attention and apparently unfazed by incarceration. Since his release from prison, Bourdin continued assuming false identities in various countries around the world, earning him the name “The Chameleon,” until he finally married in 2007 and retired from the impersonation game. The great, inconsolable pain of Nicholas Barclay’s family, however, continues.

Read more Reeling with Rene Rodriguez stories from the Miami Herald

  •  
 <span class="cutline_leadin">‘Life Itself’:</span> Gene Siskel, left, and Roger Ebert get into one of their countless arguments during the taping of their TV show.

    Life Itself (R)

    There are scholars who blame Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel for dumbing down film criticism with their thumbs-up, thumbs-down approach, the same way they blame Steven Spielberg and George Lucas for ruining movies with the success of Jaws and Star Wars. But Siskel and Ebert accomplished just the opposite: They popularized criticism and introduced it to the masses via their PBS show in which they spent a lot of time debating (and fighting) over movies before delivering their final, yes-or-no verdict. The first version of their show, which was titled Sneak Previews and aired on PBS in the late 1970s, led me to read Pauline Kael and Film Comment and American Film and the Miami Herald’s late, great Bill Cosford as a kid. Suddenly, my nascent love of movies blew up: Movies weren’t just something you watched for entertainment. Sometimes, there was a lot to find beneath their surface.

  •  
Caesar (Andy Serkis) leads a war against mankind in “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.”

    Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (PG-13)

    Yawn of the Planet of the Apes — excuse me, Dawn — has a big-budget sheen, a few terrific action setpieces and some of the most jaw-dropping CGI effects to date: You will believe these apes are real (although some of them are actors wearing costumes).

  •  
Chris Evans (center) and Jamie Bell (left) are about to crack some skulls aboard a speeding bullet train in “Snowpiercer.”

    Snowpiercer (R)

    In the near future, mankind attempts to solve the growing problem of global warming by shooting a missile into space that will lower the planet’s thermostat. Instead, the device plunges Earth into another ice age, killing all life except for the people on a huge bullet train that has been circling the globe for 17 years (don’t ask, just go with it).

Miami Herald

Join the
Discussion

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category