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 Sept. 29, 2016
Taye Diggs is the honorary chair for Saturday's 2016 AIDS Walk Wisconsin at the Summerfest Grounds - not an unfamiliar role for the TV, film and Broadway performer who starred in "Rent," the hit musical that helped push HIV and AIDS awareness into the public eye.
Published Sept. 29, 2016
Weddings. Cars. Giving to food drives. Sex. Purebred dogs. Yes, if it's a thing you like, Adam Conover has likely ruined it. And he's bringing that raucously entertaining (and informative) ruin to Milwaukee on Sunday night.
Published Sept. 29, 2016
The Milwaukee Film Festival is here, and, as a proud sponsor, OnMilwaukee is honored to bring you Spotlight Presentations and a new sports series, Sportsball!, this year. We'll also bring you our picks every day. Here's what you shouldn't miss for Day 8.
Published Sept. 28, 2016
Before its final Milwaukee Film Festival showing on Wednesday, Oct. 5, we chatted with director Irene Taylor Brodsky about her harrowing doc "Beware the Slenderman" - and why true crime has become such a pop culture sensation.
Published Sept. 26, 2016
You would think Netflix would spend October stocking up some horror flicks in time for the Halloween season. And oddly, you would be thinking wrong. But at least Netflix has a strong supply of originals and classics coming your way in October.
Published Sept. 25, 2016
John Darnielle turned to a surprising place for The Mountain Goats' latest record: professional wrestling. Before the band's show Tuesday night, we chatted with the storytelling frontman about his wrestling inspiration and digging through nostalgia.
Published Sept. 23, 2016
The 2016 Milwaukee Film Festival opened Thursday evening much the way the last rendition closed: with a documentary tribute to finding meaning at the movies, this time via "Life, Animated," a sweet and lovely moving picture - in all meanings of the phrase.
Published Sept. 19, 2016
With almost 300 movies set to screen during the Milwaukee Film Festival, it can be almost impossible to figure out what to see. OnMilwaukee film critic Matt Mueller is here to help, breaking down each day with what you must see.
Published Sept. 16, 2016
Looking around Reed Street Yards, it's hard not to think it would be a perfect place for a nature-conscious music festival. Apparently Rock the Green thought the same thing, as the area will play host to its return on Saturday, Sept. 17.
Published Sept. 15, 2016
Oscar winner John Ridley, "Arrested Development" star Mae Whitman and "Silicon Valley" star Martin Starr are just a few of the many filmmakers, film subjects and performers heading to the Milwaukee Film Festival starting next Thursday.