Lina Lamont

"What do you think I am, dumb or something?"

Film review THE IMPOSTER

This review first appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, 6th January 2013

Texas, 1994. A blonde, blue-eyed 13-year old boy goes missing, and his family is understandably distraught. There is no indication of what happened to Nicholas Barclay.  

Three years later, a boy materialises half a world away in Spain, claiming to be the missing child. Despite his having brown eyes, dark hair and a French accent, the family welcome “Nicholas” back and he is reintegrated into life in smalltown America.  

Given the film’s title and our introduction to the main character in opening scenes, it’s not a spoiler to say that the “boy” (actually a 23-year old Frenchman) turned out not to be Nicholas. What is extraordinary is quite how the authorities fell for it (even becoming unwitting accomplices) and the examination of the motivation of all parties involved in this most peculiar and distressing of ruses.  

Film-maker Bart Layton (swiftly being nominated for awards worldwide, as we speak) employs interesting narrative techniques to bring the documentary to life. The imposter himself describes much of his own story (laying open huge issues of the ‘unreliable narrator’ but certainly making for gripping footage) and interposed with talking heads interviews with family and law enforcement are dramatisations of what allegedly happened. Evoking Errol Morris in style, Layton goes back over alleged events, plays dramatic music, holds focus on characters whom we swiftly suspect to be lying. It is a whodunnit, a whydunnit and a howcouldthey all in one.  

Frustratingly, a lot of questions you might have for the key players are left unanswered, but this incredible true story paves the way for an fascinating discussion about how far wanting something to be true makes it so.


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