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The Imposter - Film Review

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by David Keyworth (subscribe)
I’m a freelance journalist and published poet, based in Manchester. My debut poetry pamphlet is available at
Published September 2nd 2012
Fascinating real-life detective story
Why would a family be duped by a 23-year-old man claiming to be their missing teenage son? This question is at the heart of Bart Layton's compelling documentary, The Imposter

Nicholas Barclay was 13-years-old when, in 1994, he was reported missing from his family home in San Antonio, Texas. Frenchman Frédéric Bourdin was a drifter who had conned his way into a Spanish children's home. He decided to impersonate a missing person to avoid giving away his true identity. He managed to convince the authorities that he was Nicholas.

In 1997 Carey Gibson flew over from Texas to be 'reunited with her brother'. Bourdin's deception should have gone no further but in an amazing twist of events, Carey believed he was Nicholas. They flew together back to Texas and Bourdin was welcomed back by Beverley, mother of the missing boy, and the rest of the family.

Both Bourdin and the family speak directly to camera. Bourdin is a disturbing but, in cinematic term, magnetic presence. It is hard to gauge whether he feels any guilt at using stories of kidnap and sexual abuse to give credibility to his impersonation of a missing teenager.

The film would be a fascinating tale if it ended there but there are more twists and turns which take it into even darker territory.

Private Investigator Charlie Parker moves the narrative forward. He could be the subject of his own TV detective series. He brings common sense and much needed humour - noting the glaring differences in facial features between Bourdin and Nicholas.

Overall though, The Imposter is a deeply eerie piece of cinema. Anne Nikitin's soundtrack is haunting and there are lingering of shots of empty Texas roads stretching into the horizon.

We learn a great deal during 98 minutes but the documentary both leaves and finds more questions than it answers. This isn't a criticism. Much as we would like it, life and the movies can't always have neat endings.

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