December 18, 2012 -- This documentary film, like “Catfish” a couple of years ago, is about a clever impersonator, but “The Impostor” is an even stranger and more serious story, and by the time you get near the end of this bizarre tale, it gets even stranger than that. It is a fascinating story.
It starts out when Nicholas Barclay, disappeared at the age of 13 in 1994 in Texas. In October of 1997, the family received word that their son had been found in Spain. His sister, Carey Gibson, went to Spain to collect Nicholas, confirming his identity to Spanish and U.S. authorities, even though this man, Frédéric Bourdin was not her brother, but a French confidence man seven years older than Nicholas. Also, he didn't have blond hair or blue eyes as her brother did. His eyes and hair were brown, but he had dyed his hair yellow as soon as he found out what Nicholas' hair color was.
Bourdin was, in fact, one of the all-time great impostors, and he had no trouble fooling the rest of Nicholas Barclay's family. He also fooled U.S. Government officials who interviewed him. He made fools of them. He had government investigators running around investigating a kidnap ring that he had made up on the spot. He even made up a convincing story to explain why his eyes were not blue and why he spoke with an accent.
But Bourdin pushed his luck too far when he went on national TV with his story. A private investigator, Charlie Parker, was immediately suspicious during the interview and began to investigate Bourdin's claims. Comparing pictures of Nicholas before his disappearance, and after the reappearance, Parker saw that the ears of the man were different in the two pictures, a sure sign he was an impostor. The shape of a person's ear is like a fingerprint. It is unique to the individual.
Incredibly, the government rejected Parker's story when he told government officials that the man claiming to be Nicholas Barclay was an impostor. Parker kept on pushing his investigation into Bourdin and into Nicholas Barclay's disappearance. Parker came to an astonishing conclusion to explain why Nicholas Barclay's family was fooled by this confidence man. That is where the story gets really weird, and deeply troubling. I won't spoil it.
Suffice it to say that Nicholas Barclay is still missing. Until he, or his body, is found, this story will remain a mystery. Bourdin's impersonation was uncovered by Parker and the FBI. He was imprisoned and later deported. It is curious, however that Bourdin was, in some ways, a better son and family member than Nicholas Barclay had been. Nicholas was a spoiled troublemaker before the disappearance. He, of course, took his U.S. citizenship, schooling and other opportunities for granted. Bourdin took nothing for granted. Life was good as Nicholas Barclay and he appreciated everything he had gained as an impostor.
I admired the resourcefulness and cleverness of Bourdin, despite all the damage he did. His charm and impish smile explains a lot about his various successes. But, he also got caught, so he is not as smart as he thought he was. The film uses a number of actors to re-enact a number of scenes. The film is well-structured by director Bart Layton and edited by Andrew Hulme. It is carefully constructed to surprise the viewer and increase the mystery. This film rates a B+.
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