I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but upon leaving the theater after viewing the new documentary "The Imposter" I could only describe the experience as an exercise in futility. Over its very long and involved 99-minute running time, both the style and presentation of "The Imposter" falsely promised a real-life events unfolding biography that would expose all to the eager audience member – one final con for a film ironically about deception.
The film begins earnestly and eerily enough with the disappearance of a 13-year-old Texas boy named Nicholas Barclay who went missing without a trace. Cut to three and a half years later when the boy is supposedly found – all the way across the country in Spain. Looking much older, sporting very different features and talking with a distinct un-American accent, the long missing Nicholas is welcomed back home, but something is amiss with both the boy and his welcoming family.
I actually wish "The Imposter" played out like the above description in terms of the order of the film, but you’re actually let in on revealing details very early, thus the impact is seriously lessened. There are more haunting ideas later in the film, which I sense director Bart Layton thought were strong enough to eclipse the initial gimmick giveaway, but they are only that – ideas. Mistakenly taking a note from the Stanley Kubrick "2001: A Space Odyssey" book of letting the audience interpret, Layton stages his film like an unraveling mystery with a beginning, middle and end and then omits one of the three. (And Kubrick’s film was fittingly a piece of fiction – this one is not!) It’s a doc error that I will admit enraged me, as if the theater had missed a reel during the building the print process. I get the idea of wanting the audience to play detective to hold attention, but in making his doc part biography and part reenacted real-life crime story, Layton sets facts and reveals in motion that comes naturally to this material and then abandons it all in lieu of frustrating ambiguity that’s far from satisfying.
I’m not looking to be spoon fed when it comes to film, and frequently a viewer’s ideas are far more disturbing than what can be seen and heard, but this is a documentary/biography for crying out loud. And while I appreciate the skill and style put into reenacting the various scenes involved in the case, it only serves as a reminder of how a skilled filmmaker failed to deliver on his promise. Whether it be apples or oranges in the cinematic doc world of he said/she said, in the end it all proves to be fruitless – "The Imposter’s" juice isn't worth the squeeze.
"THE IMPOSTER" IS CURRENTLY PLAYING IN SELECT THEATERS FROM A&E INDIEFILMS.