The Imposter (2012)

the imposter movie poster

A documentary about a young Frenchman who convinces a grieving Texas family that he is their 16-year-old son who has been missing for 3 years.

I very rarely review anything that could be considered new, and current. However, this little movie is actually only just out on DVD here in the UK this week, and not out in the US on dvd or on demand until the end of the month I believe. Nice to be ahead of the US for a change! Although it played a lot of festivals last year, so I’m hardly the first person to see it. But still!

Just as a heads up, this is going to be the one review I write that will include spoilers. It’s impossible to talk about anything otherwise really, and the DVD packaging tells you most of this anyway. I am going to guess this film will be winning the Oscar for best documentary this year, so if you would like to keep a clear mind and know nothing about it, then now is the time to leave.

Frédéric Bourdin

Frédéric Bourdin

Still here? Ok, here we go. The Imposter is a documentary about the 1997 case of a French man Frédéric Bourdin, who impersonated Nicholas Barclay, a Texas boy who had disappeared at the age of 13 in 1994. After his disappearance, weeks turned into months, and eventually the case was abandoned by the police and press leaving a grieving family devastated. Three years later, the local Texas police department receives an international call from Spain. On the receiving end is Nicholas (well, so they believe). He spins a story about how he was captured but escaped the clutches of a child prostitution ring, the police think his story checks out, and soon enough Nicholas’ sister is on her way to Europe to meet her long-lost brother. In front of police officials, she takes a good look and identifies him as Nicholas. Three years ago, Nicholas was a blue-eyed, blonde haired American teenager, now he’s transformed into a dark-haired, brown-eyed man with stubble and an irreplaceable French accent. He is also a 23-year-old man trying to pass himself off as a 16-year-old. Yet she still accepts him as Nicholas, and they head back to be reunited with the rest of the family. Remember, this isn’t a movie, this ACTUALLY HAPPENED!!


Frédéric Bourdin

All the way through the documentary, we see the family talking about before and after Nicholas’ disappearance, and then about the build up to him coming home. We also get to see the now much older Frédéric Bourdin talking us through how and why he did what he did. I mean, he is definitely not showing the behaviour of a normal person, but yet is fascinatingly compelling, and I couldn’t take my eyes off him. His performance alone is worthy of an Oscar, but then you have to remember this is what he really did. He dyed his hair, got some tattoos that Nicholas had (I know, 13 years old with tattoos!), got lucky time after time and managed to get himself to America before finally convincing the family he was their missing son. He had no real care of the damage he was doing to them, and whilst I wanted to hate him for his selfish actions, he was just so charismatic, and just had something you wanted to listen to him even more.

The Imposter

Nicholas’ sister

He began his impersonations as a child and claims to have assumed at least 500 false identities, three of which have been actual teenage missing persons. Bourdin lived with the Barclay family for almost 5 months. In late 1997 a local private investigator grew suspicious while he was working with a TV crew that had been filming the family. In February 1998 the FBI got a court order to take the young man’s fingerprints and DNA, which were later identified as belonging to Bourdin. In September 1998 in federal court in San Antonio, Bourdin pleaded guilty to passport fraud and perjury. He was imprisoned for six years, more than twice as long as recommended by the sentencing guidelines.

Whilst it definitely looks and sounds as though I’m telling the whole story, I am literally scratching the surface. And you know what?? There is something potentially even more disturbing on show in this documentary. One of the members of the Barclay family is claimed by Bourdin to have congratulated him, and wished him luck. As in, he knew he was an imposter, but good luck with it anyway. Bourdin actually went to meet the half-brother, Jason, and whilst he was out, his girlfriend at the time told him she believed that Jason had killed Nicholas. Bourdin told the authorities this when they caught him.

The Impostor mum

Bourdin & his ‘mum’

This is the fascinating part of The Imposter. There is no resolution, the family obviously deny all these allegations and say they come from a clearly deranged man. It is left up to us, the viewers, to make up our own conclusions. This theory would certainly explain why they allowed this man to come into their lives. If they had killed Nicholas, accidentally or whatever, having him ‘come home’ puts them in the clear. On the opposite side of the coin is the rational part of me that says of course it’s just more bullshit from the Frenchman, and of course the family weren’t involved. They were just so overjoyed their son was home, they overlooked the obvious things due to their happiness. Extreme gullibility certainly appears to be a big factor, but also people blinded by desperation to believe their son is alive.

the imposter title

The Imposter is expertly put together by director Bart Layton. Thoroughly compelling and filled with clues and fascinating performances, but no real answers. How is it possible that the Barclay’s were so blind to the obvious physical differences between Nicholas and Bourdin? Why were they so willing to believe his story and let him stay in their home? Could it be that they had something to hide? A little bit of digging and it came to light that both Nicholas’ mother and older half-brother were both in the throes of severe drug addictions, and that the mother failed one of her polygraph tests when questioned about the disappearance. The half-brother was considered a person of interest, but his death in 1998 as the result of a cocaine overdose effectively stalled the investigation. To this day, the remaining Barclay’s deny any involvement in Nicholas’ disappearance. And Nicholas is still listed as a missing person.



I know I have given a lot away here. But the facts are all over the internet, and this is a story that will get a lot of attention when the awards season kicks in. I hope I can encourage some of you to try and check this out when it opens at the end of the month, and I would love to hear your thoughts on it. For me, whilst I want to say Bourdin is clearly crazy, and his actions were terrible and awful for any family to have to go through, the part of me that sees a lot of horror films and is fascinated by conspiracies is not convinced the family are as clean as they make out. Then you hear Bourdin say something like this:

‘For them to have to pretend that this stranger was their kid, that’s horrific for them. It doesn’t make me any better. What I’ve done was cruel, was bad, was evil, and I deserve every punishment I got. But it wasn’t calculated. It just happened’.


In his odyssey through countless different shelters and homes, Bourdin said he had been questioned by any number of psychologists and psychiatrists. None, he said, understood his motives:

‘It’s hard for anyone to understand that the only thing someone wants is a mum, a dad, brothers, sisters, a life. The only people who have understood that were in those homes and shelters – people who care for the children, or the children themselves’.

I still don’t believe this is enough of a reason to feel sorry for him. But I will say The Imposter is a must see. I can’t even rate it out of ten, because how the hell can I rate it? It’s either a fascinatingly brilliant documentary, that unearths layer upon layer of deceit and possible conspiracies, or just a piece of crap with one man lying his way into a families heart for purely selfish reasons. Therefore it gets either 1 star or 10. However, I loved it, and please let me know how you see it if you ever manage to catch it. :)


  1. A fascinating doc that throws up more questions than answers. I’m amazed his story hasn’t been told to a wide audience (I know there have been articles and a lower-key film) before now. He’s a true chameleon, who happens to be married with children unbelievably!


    1. Have you seen it? Whats your take on the ending?

      I read about the tv movie that was made and seen by about 2 people. Also about his wife and kids. Incredible, she was a fan that wrote to him. Weird, but he says he has stopped it all now. :)


  2. I love documentaries like this; I started reading your review, and stopped because I want to rent it myself (or go see it if it opens here), so I’ll come back to the review after I’ve seen it, and I’ll let you know what I thought. Based on what I read, it looks like it’s going to be weird AND fascinating!


    1. No worries Todd. Thats why I mentioned the spoilers, as either people will read on and be intrigued, or hopefully check it out then come back. I believe it goes on demand in the US around the 22nd of this month. I dont know if that means streaming or what, or if the dvd is out then, but I hope you get chance to see it, and enjoy it as much as I did. :)


    1. So you sided with the family totally? I wanted to, and felt so bad for them, but as the ending reveals came out, I started to think other ways……..fascinating story whichever way you feel though. Glad you’ve seen it, hope more people get to.

      Thanks very much! :)


  3. This documentary is fascinating and so well put together. The reconstructions are stylish and the people presented are worthy of characters in any big blockbuster. Hope this goes along way in awards season.


    1. Glad you’ve seen it Natalie. The family were well presented, but not the sharpest tools in the shed. The more I think about it the more I’m convinced they are involved.

      Thanks :)


  4. “The Impostor” sounds very fascinating. I used to meet folks like this during my working days. They were great as news subjects but I would hate — as in this case — to have them target my family. This “Impostor” sounds like it hits closer to home with pain inflicted than the very entertaining but glossy “The Great Impostor” with Tony Curtis and a similar, more recent film with, I think, Leo DiCaprio or Matt Damon (?). My brain is not so sharp today.


  5. Glad you enjoyed it Tyson – saw it at the cinema when it came out and was thoroughly impressed. Criminally underviewed by many people. Maybe it got more of a push in the UK than the US owing to it being made by Film4 (British). Also, a recommendation for you – check out talhotblond – spelt infuriatingly like that. If you’ve not seen it, and you enjoyed this, you’ll definitely get a kick out of it.


    1. Ill be honest I saw no marketing for it at all. I saw a trailer last year, then forgot about it until I saw the DVD last week. Then I watched it and did my research. And got a tweet off the actual Bourdin fella :)

      I will look up that film you mention, tall hot blondes sounds great ;) cheers for the recommendation


      1. Yeah you want the 2009 version for sure. Never even heard of the 2012 version until I just looked. The 2009 is filmed a lot like The Imposter and Catfish (if you’ve seen that too? If not – check it). That 2012 one reads like some horrible TV movie.


        1. I own Catfish, not seen it yet but it is moving quickly up my watch list after this movie. I love Raising Hope so would maybe check the 2012 version just for the lead guy. And Courtney Cox…..despite the plastic face :)


  6. I saw this when it was on in the cinema and was blown away. It is absolutely a case of the truth being stranger than fiction. Definitely a must-see!


  7. This sounds totally crazy. I’ve never heard of it, but I’ll be looking for it now. I think you were right to talk about as much as you did, by the way. Otherwise, you wouldn’t have much of a review for this thing.


    1. Hope you find it dude. Yeah, I felt I had to go on and spoil it really, since without any info it would be a short review. It’s more trying to get people interested in the story and seeing what they make of it. Cheers buddy :)


  8. The Imposter has been getting really good press from a lot of sources that don’t usually agree about anything. So when it comes to cable, which it does pretty quickly once it’s out on DVD (it is), we’ll take a look. My interest is definitely piqued.


  9. Now this sounds seriously fascinating. I’m definitely going to check it out. Great review too – you told us just enough to intrigue but not too much so that I don’t want to see. :)


    1. Thank you Misty!

      Always nice when people get what Im trying to do, never want to spoil too much. So thankyou!

      I know you have limited time to see any movies this year, but if you get chance there is some good stuff to be had with The Imposter! :)


  10. I still haven’t seen this, but for reasons I won’t go into this all reminds me of a movie starring T. Hayden Church and Elizabeth Shue called Don McKay. Ever see it?


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