I don’t spend a lot of time tracking down documentaries, at least not as often as I probably should. My problem is that not a lot of topics seem compelling enough to hold my attention for a full hour and a half or so. When I heard so many great things about THE IMPOSTER I couldn’t help but check it out, if only to see what all the hype was about. To a certain extent, the documentary earns all the praise that’s been heaped about it, but I can’t help but feel like it dies out at a less than desireable note.
The topic of THE IMPOSTER is told from the perspective of a family’s three year search for Nicholas Barclay only to have a man overseas randomly claim to be the missing teenager and somehow fooling the family and even some government agencies that he indeed is Nicholas. The problem eventually comes that the man’s story inevitably falls apart when he is constantly questioned by professionals trained to spot inaccuracies and behavior which leads to something a little more disturbing bubbling beneath the surface of the disappearance of Nicholas Barclay.
The things that really standout about THE IMPOSTER for me is that the recreated footage of events in the film are filmed beautifully as are almost all the scenes included that are not from archived footage. The way that the story is presented has its fair share of ups and downs- from the get go I was questioning just where it was going which made me wonder what exactly was so compelling about this story. It is shocking enough that a 20 something man can infiltrate this grieving family with no remorse and even talk his way around the governement, but I wasn’t feeling that it was leading to anything substantial- until about the last half hour.
THE IMPOSTER slowly creeps into something a little darker in the final 25 minutes to a half hour where I was fully engrossed and 100% on board with how the topic was unfolding which elevated the first half of the film because everything it presents towards the end makes the opening the more interesting. I felt tense and intrigued for the rest of the film until the final shot, which then presents another issue I had. As engrossing as the final minutes are I feel like it leaves the audience suspended in mid air with no closure or clear opinion on the information presented in the last half hour. It could be argued that you are supposed to make your own presumptions about the information and let the movie live on its own with your opinion and the conversations you might have about it, but I felt a little empty at the end with no strong opinion either way. With that kind of interpretation it makes subsequent conversation a little fruitless if you can’t have a meaningful set of opinions to add to the subject. In some ways I suppose a case could be made about the deceitful nature of the imposter himself and the assumptions he presents, but the extent to which that conversation would lead me toward a clearer point of view is still questionable to me.
I did appreciate the use of recreated footage as a means to give the film a really vibrant look as it is beautifully filmed and to an extent worth checking the film out just to admire the photography, though the shots themselves add little to the way the story is told. The extra footage in some way may seem transparent as a way to add more tension and interest to the film instead of just stock footage and voiceover as would normally be used, but I think in the case of THE IMPOSTER it greatly elavates the least interesting moments. There’s a number of technical aspects that might cause distraction where the voiceover of the imposter syncs with the mouth movements of the recreated moments which I found to be a nice touch at least on a technical level, but not at the storytelling level.
As documentaries go THE IMPOSTER takes a few liberties with the way that the story is told, but in ways that work to its benefit. The topic on display here is one that unfolds in a patient manner and slowly creeps into your brain and in the last half hour really takes hold until the very last shot. To be perfectly honest, as compelling as the film is I still cannot shake the empty feeling I felt once the credits roll- rather it was by design or not I feel THE IMPOSTER end with unfinished business that for better or worse will leave the viewer with plenty of unanswered questions. It is the job of a good documentary to reel us in and keep us engaged from beginning to end and this film does that better than I would have admitted at the beginning, but masterfully winds down to a endpoint that made me wish there were more story to tell. I don’t normally have a feeling that I want to watch a documentary more than once, but THE IMPOSTER I feel is one that rewards a second viewing if to watch the opening interviews with a new perspective and gain a more rounded opinion on the topic.
Written By: Luke (@CrummyLuke on Twitter)