Adam O’Brian as Frédéric Bourdin in The Imposter.
Published: 23 August, 2012
by DAN CARRIER
Directed by Bart Layton
Rating: 4 Out Of 5 Stars
THE phone rang at the police station in a small Spanish town. It was late at night, and the officer who answered it heard an American voice on the other end saying they’d found a young boy in a distressed state who said he had been kidnapped.
They despatched a patrol car, picked the youngster up, took him to a children’s home and began to try to unravel his story.
But the nub of it was this: he wasn’t a small, lost boy at all, he was a 23-year-old serial hoaxer from France called Frédéric Bourdin.
After a few weeks in the home, he had decided to become a boy called Nicholas Barclay who disappeared from Texas four years previously.
We follow his story as he is reunited with a family who are overjoyed to have their boy back – but what should be a happy ending, of course, is nothing of the sort as Frédéric isn’t Nicholas, and what really happened to this blonde-haired, all-American boy is a mystery that gives the film an added dimension.
Director Bart Layton gives the viewer some bare-bone facts and then the story gets a whole lot murkier as it progresses: who is Frédéric Bourdin and what is his motivation? And what really happened to Nicholas Barclay?
The subject material is just so enthralling that even in the hands of the most obscure satellite TV documentary maker I sense this film would be watchable.
But Layton has aced it, building up the story gradually, gaining the trust of all involved so we get the interviews that matter, and telling the story in a way that means you feel like you are gazing in on a rompingly grand mystery.
The Barclays couldn’t offer better material: the distraught sister who travelled to Spain to collect her sibling is so moving, always on screen with tears in her eyes.
She explains how she’d never left Texas before, was thrilled to see you could get Coca-Cola in Spain and smoke cigarettes in airport terminals.
While she knew her brother had changed, she believed it was him, and he was just going through deep, deep traumatic stress after being kidnapped and sexually abused for four years.
Then there is Charlie Parker, the Boss Hog look-a-like private detective who compared Frédéric’s ears with those of Nicholas in a picture and knew immediately they couldn’t be the same person.
Then Frédéric himself, wanted by Interpol for numerous counts of similar deceptions, realising how deep he had got himself in and waiting to be rumbled any minute – and then wondering why this family were so ready to offer him a place at their table.
This is an exquisitely sad story: don’t forget that at its heart is the disappearance of a 13-year-old boy.
It means this is more than just some true-crime horror flick. You can’t help but ooze sympathy for the people involved, from the confused family, to Frédéric Bourdin, an imposter extraordinaire.