The Imposter (Bart Layton, 2012)

In an interesting companion piece to Craig Zobel’s Compliance, Bart Layton’s documentary, The Imposter, posits a question to his audience on the distortion of truth and one’s capacity to believe a lie. And then turns the table on the audience in one of the more interesting twists I’ve seen this year. It does everything that Zobel’s film misses on – presents ideas, questions them, and guides the audience through a narrative arc of considerable insight and weight. Compelling in its utilization of various perspectives, including reenactment footage, The Imposter boasts an impressive handle of how to actually present its material with conviction. Similar to 2010’s Exit Through the Gift Shop, Bart Layton’s film acknowledges the dark depths of his material without ever giving in to its potential coldness –The Imposter is a film of a decidedly even-keeled tone that implements glimmers of darkness, humor, and heart without losing its entrancing momentum.

Frédéric Bourdin functions as one of the film’s narrators. He’s a man of considerable confidence. And from the beginning, we are aware of the lie that he is involved in. But knowing the lie is only a window into his life of deceit and selfishness – Layton’s film goes through considerable efforts to conceal aspects of his personality and history in order to maintain a level of narrative progression. In a way, the audience is not given every tidbit of information from the onset. And that’s what gives Layton the ability to instill an ever-growing sense of dread while addressing some of the circumstantial hiccups that allowed a 23-year old Frenchmen to enter the United States under the assumed identity of a missing Texas teenager.

Compounded with stylized reenactments are various talking head segments with Bourdin, various members of the Texas family that accepted the man as their son, the FBI, and local townspeople. Layton and Editor Andrew Hulme have an impressive grasp of pacing and unite images and interviews with stunning effectiveness. As members of the family discuss the appearance of their lost teenage son, Hulme cuts to Bourdin’s own distinctive and smug appearance, all corresponding together.

The Imposter’s most effective thematic element is in how it works, initially, as a voyeuristic odyssey, only to implicate the audience halfway through the film. It’s a seamless integration that I was only aware of until after I had finished viewing the film. As Bourdin becomes cognizant that law officials are becoming aware of his charade, he presents new information that convincingly adds a new perspective on the whole matter. It’s the sort of narrative detour that works in conjunction with the picture’s thesis on the nature of lies and the implications had when people accept it as truth.

The Imposter could have buckled under the condescending tone of its central figure or been washed away by sentimentality from a grieving family. But it’s an incredibly balanced film of substantial philosophical worth that has enough formal integrity to keep its various moving parts in check. Much like Zobel’s Compliance, The Imposter stimulates conversation – but this time around, the film itself gives its source enough credibility to make for a compelling discussion.

Rating: 7/10