If history has taught us one thing, it’s that lies get us nowhere but in the case of Frenchman Frederic Bourdin, however, his lies got him a passport to the US, a new family and, ultimately, six years in prison.
In 1997, Frederic took it upon himself to assume the identity of missing Texan boy Nicholas Barclay and deceive the teen’s family that he was, in actual fact, him. Nick had gone missing three years previous after a row with his mother. Upon storming out of the family home, the then 12-year-old blonde-haired, blue-eyed boy allegedly cooled his heels playing basketball with friends before calling home to ask if he could be picked up. With his mother in bed, he was told he’d have to make his own way home. He never made it.
By ’97, his family were still clinging to the hope he’d be found. That hope turned to a reality (of sorts) when they received a phonecall from Spain where a children’s shelter said they had found Nicholas. What the family were unaware of was the fact Nick was, in fact, 23-year-old Frenchman Bourdin. His lies and deception, somehow, convince everyone he comes into contact with that he is the missing youngster – despite his dark hair, brown eyes and inability to speak with a US accent. This, in turn, sparks a run of events that not only put his freedom at risk but that of his new ‘family’.
First off, it’s safe to say that Bourdin never comes across as someone looking for sympathy. He’s a loner from a broken home. His father – an Algerian man – was warned off being part of his life by a racist grandfather. While there are hints he blames his situation on his upbringing, it isn’t dwelled upon. It’s clear he feels no remorse for what he puts the Barclay family through. He’s quite open about his actions, simply saying: “Fuck them”, in reference to how it affected everyone else.
Sadly, this documentary is vague when it comes down to the moral of the story. Is Bourdin seen as some sort of master of disguise? No real questions are asked of his deception. And what about the family of Nick Barclay? They’re put into a position where questions are asked of them regarding the disappearance of Nicholas. As Bourdin’s lies unravel, his actions to deflect some of the anger heading his way are jaw-dropping. How anyone can have the brazen audacity to live their life like he does defies belief. It’s akin to the story of Frank Abagnail in Catch Me if You Can, only instead of wanting to make money and travel the world, Bourdin does it just because he can.
Some things don’t quite sit right – like the ineptitude of the FBI agent interviewed, but that doesn’t detract from something that is quite a story. Whether or not director Bart Layton is trying to convey some kind of message is neither here nor there. The Imposter is a compelling and disturbingly frank tale about how one man used his obsession with assuming the identities of teenagers to take advantage of a grieving family and feel wanted.