by Jim Ridley
The most diabolical villain in movies this year takes you into his confidence in the opening minutes of Bart Layton's documentary The Imposter. In 1994, a 13-year-old boy named Nicholas Barclay vanished on a walk back to his San Antonio home. Three years later, news surfaced that Nicholas had been found — in Spain. A short time later his family stood in an airport lobby, opening their arms to their missing child. It didn't seem to matter that he now had dark stubble. Or that his blue eyes were now brown. Or that he spoke with a French accent.
"Nicholas" had answers for those things — but by that time in The Imposter, we're well aware that he is not Nicholas. He's a predatory Gallic grifter named Frederic Bourdin, then 23, who got hold of a U.S. directory overseas and started cold-calling American police stations in search of missing-persons cases. Encouraged by Layton's camera, Bourdin, a cunning opportunist whose smirk you want to slap off his face, walks us through each step of the deception, aided by the good intentions of bureaucrats who shrugged and swallowed their skepticism once Nicholas' own sister laid eyes on him — and embraced him as her own.