In summing up everything that took place during the events seen in The Imposter, a perversely entertaining new documentary, one of the main participants nails it. She says: “It was starting to get ridiculous.”
The Imposter examines a bizarre series of events that occurred mostly in the 1990s. Why it is just now grist for a full-length documentary might be because no one found a way to tell the story.
Documentarian Bart Layton tackles the subject of the disappearance of Nicholas Barclay, although he cheats by using frequent re-enactments. But that’s almost understandable because, at the time, no one could foresee the consequences of Barclay’s disappearance and his miraculous reappearance — of sorts.
Thirteen-year-old Nicholas Barclay left his San Antonio home in 1994. Maybe it was after an argument with his mother and maybe not. Among many other things in the documentary, that fact remains fluid.
He eventually became one of the country’s many missing children, sought out by authorities. From this period, Layton includes some still photos and a few home movies from Nicholas’ mother, Beverly Dollarhide.
Three years later, someone purporting to be Nicholas turns up in Linares, Spain. This is “The Imposter,” the man who sits in front of Layton’s cameras and relates the story of how he went missing (he was kidnapped and sexually abused, he says), how someone found him, and how he was ready to go back home.
As the imposter tells his story, a viewer immediately notices that, unlike the blond, blue-eyed Nicholas, this other Nicholas has brown hair, dark eyes, and speaks English with a French accent. But in 1997, Nicholas’ family just cared that he had allegedly been found and wanted to come home.
His sister, the oft-interviewed Carey Gibson, speaks to him and then flies to Spain to retrieve him after authorities there tested him for authenticity.
He returns, as The Imposter tells us, and before long, the FBI is called in, many questions are raised, and everything seems in flux. During it all, Gibson and Dollarhide look like they are indulging in wish fulfillment. At one point, Dollarhide says about that period: “My main goal in life was not to think.”
But if this isn’t Nicholas, where is he and who is the imposter? To answer those questions, a canny private investigator shows up, the FBI gets a tip from Interpol, and DNA and fingerprints come into play.
The solutions may not be satisfying, but they are certainly entertaining.
Rated R, 99 minutes.
Opens Friday at the Angelika Dallas.