|'Layton overlays Bourdin's narration on to O'Brian's mouth movements... The effect is one successful in reminding us of the power of stories'|
Bart Layton's well made and innovative documentary The Imposter eventually falls into that trap of so many mysteries when it gets to the final third. Lacking a definitive conclusion, Layton is forced to cast around aspersions, to 'go with his gut' and present to us an answer unproven in law or by any physical evidence. Not only does this produce an unsatisfying lack of closure (partially, at least, the fault of the story), but it is also potentially dangerous and duplicitous, themes Layton spends much of his time considering during the earlier segments.
For the most part, these notions centre around Frédéric Bourdin, a French national who successfully managed to impersonate a previously-lost American boy, several years his junior. As Layton allows Bourdin to tell more and more of his own story, the director leaves in clever reminders for his audience that we are listening to a master conman. With Adam O'Brian playing Bourdin in flashback segments, Layton overlays Bourdin's narration on to O'Brian's mouth movements. Occasionally, O'Brian turns to face the camera. The effect is one successful in reminding us of the power of stories, and how easily we can get sucked in to believing and listening to someone we already know to be a compulsive liar.
This goes some way to suggesting an explanation of quite how Bourdin managed to integrate himself into the Barclay family, despite bearing little physical resemblance to their son, Nicholas. A combination of Bourdin's skill and the family's cathartic need to believe his lies is initially the focus, perhaps for a little too long. At one hundred minutes The Imposter isn't drawn out but the middle segment does postulate a little too much and the reproductions - which are hardly ever a good idea but are presented well here - do start to drag on and resurface too often.
Then, the final third kicks in, and the muted revelations the film has so far done well to keep out of the public eye present themselves. Those following the chain of events will perhaps not be 100% surprised about where the story and Layton goes, though the suggestions are non-the-less shocking. Equally though, this is uncertain territory, and Layton's need to at least partially watch his step leaves the film as a whole somewhat stunted.