Thanks to the efforts of directors like Morgan Spurlock and Davis Guggenheim ("Waiting for Superman"), documentaries have gained more popularity over the years. Documentaries have moved away from their legacy of dull tedium and become one of the most exciting genres of film, constantly showing the ability to take topics that most audiences would not usually find interesting and turning them into cinematic gold.
That's not always the case, though. Sometimes, a story is so fascinating that all a documentarian has to do is roll film. Case in point: Bart Layton's "The Imposter," a new doc at the Milwaukee Film Festival that plays like a thriller.
In 1994, 13-year-old Nicholas Barclay disappears walking back to his San Antonio home. Three years later, the police in Spain call his family to let say that they miraculously found their son. However, when he returns home, the local police begin to question Nicholas, who arrives in town with a strong French accent and the wrong-colored eyes.
It turns out they were right to be suspicious, as "Nicholas Barclay" turns out to be a 23-year-old Frenchman named Frederic Bourdin, who somehow convinced multiple police departments and even the missing child's family that he was their long-lost son.
Obviously, considering the film's title (and the fact that the story made national news), Bourdin's trickery isn't exactly a twist. Instead, Layton goes into the minds of his subjects, including the shifty French fake himself, who through an insightful interview describes his entire mindset and strategy during the debacle in incredible detail.
Much of "The Imposter"'s fascinating story is told with a combination of interviews and reenactments. In most cases, reenactments are to be feared, normally combining fake-looking drama with hammy acting to take the audience completely out of the story. That's not the case with "The Imposter." Instead of being an afterthought, the slick, shadowy reenactments are feature film quality, making it hard to believe that it's a documentary and not a stylish, heart-pumping Hollywood-produced mystery.
In most cases, it's better than most of Hollywood's latest batch of mystery tales. Though the audience knows Bourdin has to get caught eventually, it's remarkably intense to watch the imposter's crafty web of lies come together and then slowly fall apart. No thanks to the family, though, who seem shockingly eager to accept their new son despite the glaring differences.
Midway through "The Imposter," in fact, Layton takes Bourdin off the hot seat and puts the family there. How could they have not seen this wasn't Nicholas? Did their desire to get their son back make them blind, or is it something more sinister? It's a creepy turn of events that adds even more intrigue to an already riveting real-life story.
It's often said that real life can be more dramatic than anything a screenwriter could come up with, and "The Imposter" proves it. With its band of complex characters, sleek storytelling and a compelling mystery that only gets more bizarre as it goes along, Bart Layton's film is the best thriller Hollywood wishes it could've come up with.
"The Imposter" has three more showings at the Milwaukee Film Festival: Sept. 29 at 4:30, Oct. 2 at 9:45 and Oct. 5 at 2:15.
No Talkbacks for this article.
Post your comment/review now
Disclaimer: Please note that Facebook comments are posted through Facebook and cannot be approved, edited or declined by OnMilwaukee.com. The opinions expressed in Facebook comments do not necessarily reflect those of OnMilwaukee.com or its staff.
Recent Articles & Blogs by Matt Mueller
Published Nov. 20, 2014
The trailer for "Pitch Perfect 2" came out this morning. The original cast - Anna Kendrick, Rebel Wilson, etc. - is all here, as well as a few new faces. Among those new faces, however, is one very familiar to sports fans: Packers linebacker Clay Matthews - flanked on both sides by fellow Packers TJ Lang, Josh Sitton, Don Barclay and David Bakhtiari.
Published Nov. 19, 2014
In case there was a question about this matter, "Dumb and Dumber To" is - for lack of a better word - dumb. Very dumb. There's entertainment where you turn your brain off, and then there's this, where maybe it's best if you leave your brain out of the theater altogether just in case its rollicking, unrepentant stupidity is somehow contagious. But did I laugh? Yes.
Published Nov. 17, 2014
They aren't old enough to legally smoke, drink or even drive. If "This Is Spinal Tap" was in theaters, they wouldn't be able to see it without their parents, and if you add together the ages of all five band members, the quintet's combined age (63) would still be younger than Sir Paul McCartney (72). But while most kids' dreams of rock glory only go as far as that - dreams - Mad RED Kat has already started acting on its aspirations, forming a band and playing gigs across the city.
Published Nov. 17, 2014
Much like Stewart's incredibly influential television show, "Rosewater" is about navigating through troubling political times, topics and outrages with lightness, humor and humanity. And for the most part, the funnyman does a respectable job with his first go-around, his familiarity with the melding of politics and humor mostly making up for his unfamiliarity with writing and directing for the big screen.
Published Nov. 15, 2014
When most people think of "Harvey," their minds probably jump to the classic 1950 Oscar-winning Jimmy Stewart film. But before Stewart got a crack at it, the story of Elwood P. Dowd and his pooka started out on stage. Now, it's returning to its origins with a run at the Milwaukee Rep starting Tuesday, Nov. 18 in the Quadracci Powerhouse.
Published Nov. 13, 2014
For many bands, the health of the group relies on giving one another space when need be. In most cases, that's pretty easy; after all, after practice or a gig, usually everyone can go in their separate directions. That's a little bit difficult for Chris Wagoner and Mary Gaines, the core duo of the Madison-based jazz band The Stellanovas, who celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary this year.
Published Nov. 12, 2014
I am satisfied with my care ... and with Disney's latest animated feature "Big Hero 6," a soaring and sweetly soulful addition to the crowded comic book superhero genre that flies just as high - if not higher - than many of its live-action ilk.
Published Nov. 10, 2014
One of Justin Hayward's earliest memories of being in America with The Moody Blues comes courtesy of the Midwest. Unsurprisingly, it's a chilly one. Over 40 years later, he returns to town for a show on Sunday, Nov. 16. Unfortunately, it hasn't gotten much warmer. One thing is different this time around, though: Hayward arrives in Milwaukee by himself, taking the chance in between tours with The Moody Blues to do a special acoustic tour.
Published Nov. 7, 2014
If you happened to be at Lucille's Piano Bar last Saturday night, you got more of a show that you were probably expecting, as Seth MacFarlane took a break from "Ted 2" and took the stage at Lucille's this past weekend to drink, do a little dance and perform a couple of classic songs.
Published Nov. 5, 2014
"The Lion King" is one of the Broadway's grandest spectacles. The inner workings of that spectacle are right there for the audience to see on stage, with the puppetry, the costumes and the actors all seamlessly coming together in plain sight to bring non-human characters to life. Original "Lion King" director and theater icon Julie Taymor called the visible mix of on stage performance work and behind the scenes technician work "the double event."