The Imposter tells the true story of a San Antonio, Texas family whose thirteen-year-old son, Nicholas Barclay, disappeared in 1994, then suddenly and puzzlingly turned up in police custody, three years and four months later, in Linares, Spain.
The young man in custody bears almost no physical resemblance to Nicholas. His eyes are a different color, he appears older than sixteen, and he unaccountably speaks English with a French accent. And yet when his sister, Carey Gibson — played in this combination documentary-docudrama by actress Anna Ruben — flies to Spain and interviews him, she IDs him as her long-lost brother. With the blessing of the US State Department and its missing-children unit, “Nicholas” is allowed to fly home and rejoin his distraught family, who welcome him with open arms. But doubts linger. Bart Layton’s fascinating film is the story of what happens next.
London-based filmmaker Layton, a television documentarian, uses familiar Errol Morris-style techniques to wrap us in the mystery of Nicholas Barclay. Even though Nicholas’ grandmother, the wonderfully named Beverly Dollarhide, and the private investigator who devotes himself to cracking the case, Charlie Parker, appear as themselves, other key figures, including “Nicholas” himself, are portrayed by actors, and events are restaged. That gives the proceedings a definite detective story flavor, a flavor bolstered by the general untrustworthiness of the missing boy’s family, a collection of lower-middle-class characters who seem to deliberately overlook all evidence in their haste to proclaim “Nicholas” their missing child.
We won’t spoil the denouement, but it’s going to be difficult for audiences to be surprised — reviewers have routinely tipped the ending of this made-for-TV film. The thrust of the piece is that in the heat of discovery in criminal cases, myriad motives previously hidden may surface inexplicably. Witnesses are not always reliable. Truth depends on the telling of the tale. Human beings will believe what they want to believe regardless of the evidence. People may not be who they say they are. Life goes on regardless. Want to test any of these propositions? Catch The Imposter quickly, before it vanishes from local screens.