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Adam O'Brian
Anna Ruben
Cathy Dresbach
Alan Teichman.
Bart Layton.
Running Time
95 minutes

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The Imposter
The true story of a real fake...

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Blending real-life testimony and dramatic re-enactments, Bart Layton’s docu-thriller revisits a 1997 US tabloid scandal that even Jeremy Kyle would have a hard time swallowing: how Frédéric Bourdin, a swarthy, 23 year-old Frenchman, conned a Texan family into believing he was their missing teenage son. Or did he?

The Imposter
The truth is stranger than fiction: an overused cliché that would nonetheless apply to Bart Layton’s daring, funny and deeply disquieting documentary... if we only knew exactly which truth we are looking at. Emphatically proving that both sides of the story don’t necessarily make up a whole, The Imposter consults all involved parties to construct a richly ambiguous study of epic identity theft in which what happened is of less interest than what people let themselves believe.

Frédéric Bourdin, a charismatic charlatan happy to relate his version of events direct to the camera, had posed as many a missing person before winding up in a Spanish orphanage, where he randomly happened upon the file of Nicholas Barclay — a 13 year-old Texan boy who had disappeared from his rural hometown three years previously. Despite never having been across the pond, and bearing not the faintest resemblance to the blue-eyed, blond-haired kid, Bourdin informed authorities that he was indeed Barclay, fabricating a preposterous backstory of kidnapping and sex slavery at the hands of the US military. Incredibly, they bought it. Even more incredibly, so did the Barclay family, who welcomed him home with open arms, overlooking his funny new accent and unlikely five o’clock shadow.

Had the desire for closure simply pushed the Barclays into a state of extreme denial? Or was Bourdin’s appearance merely a convenient cover-up for some skeletons in the family closet? Layton approaches this potentially lurid mystery with all the cool, stealthy grace of a Patricia Highsmith novel, as Bourdin’s Tom Ripley figure alternates between the positions of predator, victim and fall guy, depending on who’s speaking.

Using extensive, sleekly filmed re-enactments of the events alongside the talking heads of Bourdin, the Barclays and assorted incredulous investigators, The Imposter brazenly invites protest from documentary purists, but manipulation of the truth is rather the point here. Layton’s ingenious juggling of conflicting perspectives aims to suggest how even the most tenuous of fictions can be embroidered into something else. Meanwhile, its avoidance of conventional vérité techniques underlines that no-one in this story, least of all the filmmaker, has an authority on the truth.

The year’s most fascinating and frightening doc so far, The Imposter delves far beneath the hysterical tabloid headlines.

Reviewed by Guy Lodge

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Your Reviews

Average user rating for The Imposter
Empire Star Rating

Incredible story!

The real life goings on of this story are truly jaw dropping and by the end I really was gripped. The lack of respect from the french dude is truly insane and at times hard to comprehend. I would highly recommend it but is it 5 star film making? Probably not! ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by guysalisbury at 09:23, 10 May 2013 | Report This Post


If the movie stopped at the end of the factual story it would have been an interesting effort. The fact that it then started to cast aspersions with no proven facts whatsoever turned it into exploitative trash and a complete waste of time. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Normal Control at 20:49, 08 January 2013 | Report This Post

Absolutely remarkable. Right from the start this movie maintains its suspense making you question everything. My heart was racing right from start to end - a must see, masterfully made documentary. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by danfacey711 at 20:49, 08 January 2013 | Report This Post

Masterful film - makes you pause and think about the family though .. Were they totally stupid or extremely cunning?

As the story slowly unfolded, I found myself utterly fascinated. Having never heard of the story, there were no pre-conceptions about what “could’ve been and should’ve been”. Beautifully filmed and not a boring moment throughout, the seamless transition from interviews to re-enactments, “mouth-over” effects included, I thought, was a stroke of genius. Master manipulator of human frailty, Frédéric Bourdin, is almost reptilian in aspect. Alth... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by joannakanga at 05:03, 27 December 2012 | Report This Post

RE: Fascinating, Enjoyable, Troubling....

Amazing documentary. Completely gripping, crazy and insanely chilling. Probably going to have nightmares about it for a week. Can't stop thinking about it. Seriously everyone should see it, it plays out like a real thriller and has insane twists and turns. Definitely something you should know nothing about (aside from the basic story) before watching it. Whether you believe one side or the other, or even if anything in it is true, it's genuinely thought provoking and hard to forget. You're drag... More

Posted by Coyleone at 02:24, 26 November 2012 | Report This Post

Fascinating, Enjoyable, Troubling....

One of the most exceptional documentaries I have seen in recent years, The Imposter tells a story in a very specific way, but is sure to give a million people a million different opinions. I won't delve into the details of the interviews, because many will draw their own conclusions, but on a technical level, the film is very proficient, utilizing a remixed Dispatches-style format. A character study develops regarding the main 'antagonist' of the story (who, incidently, is MADE to be seen on cam... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by blaud at 23:53, 19 October 2012 | Report This Post

A Character study if nothing else,..

A distrurbing docu/drama about the depths of human deception involved in the 1997 scandal of how a texan family was conned. (FEW SPOILERS AHEAD) What we begin with is a study of a cruel individual Frédéric Bourdin and his selfish ambition to sensationalize a texan family's pain over thier missing child. So he adopts his identity and fabricates a kidnapping / torture story to the press and athorities and fools even the family into taking him in as thier now found child. But ala... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Ramone87 at 21:19, 05 September 2012 | Report This Post


Went to see this last night on basis of great reviews here. Whilst it was an interesting story it was a waste of a cinema outing as it was not a big screen event. This would be a good TV documentary but a 5 star movie? No. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by jocklet at 11:26, 29 August 2012 | Report This Post

Fake movie

Totally pointless anodyne bullshit for the gormless coffee latte froth licking crowd. Too false and manipulative to be a proper documentary, too boring to be a standard scripted movie. Really brave inserting audience-sucking pot shots at poor uneducated Texan white trash. Wow, what a challenging and original target <claps hands and pats audience on the head> In terms of the story itself, anything of interest (not much really) vanishes as soon as the imposter tried to accuse the family - s... More

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Posted by BatSpider at 23:31, 27 August 2012 | Report This Post

RE: The Imposter

One of the best things I witnessed at EIFF this year. A really impressive documentary that stylistically is reminiscent of an Errol Morris effort and (as lost highway alluded to) works best when you know next to nothing about the subject matter. So an that note, I'll say nothing more, other than..... ... More

Posted by Qwerty Norris at 11:00, 27 August 2012 | Report This Post

The Imposter

Saw it yesterday. In short, best film of 2012 so far. Avoid all reviews/trailers/spoilers and go in blind. It's excellent! ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by losthighway at 09:57, 27 August 2012 | Report This Post

The Chameleon

This sounds great, although I might have seen it before, exactly the same story as Famke Janssen movie the Chameleon, which is decent ... More

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Posted by jwebb66 at 20:04, 24 August 2012 | Report This Post

RE: The Imposter

How e. You couldn't make it up. Although clearly someone has. This sounds curiously reminiscent of the bizarre-but-true stories behind rees of Separation]Changelinglso makes me think of a bit...) Proof positive that people really do believe what they want to believe? Interesting that aketing a re-release at the same time. ... More

Posted by chris kilby at 12:01, 24 August 2012 | Report This Post

Go in blind

Film reviews are often accused of giving away too much information on a film, and this is exactly the case here. The film is very controlled with how it releases the information about the various subjects and their motives, and is best seen with little or know knowledge on how things will pan out. It's fantastically crafted, and you would genuinely struggle to write a piece of fiction as absurd and emotionally involving as this. ... More

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Posted by Hawros at 10:42, 20 August 2012 | Report This Post

Saw it at the Edinburgh film fest, agree with Empire's review, it's bold and completely crazy. I guess there really is no such thing as the truth in matters such as these. ... More

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Posted by JCR at 04:24, 20 July 2012 | Report This Post

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