Sunday, July 15, 2012

Movie with Abe: The Imposter

The Imposter
Directed by Bart Layton
Released July 13, 2012

Documentaries can have a number of aims and can serve a number of purposes. Sometimes it’s to expose truth, to probe or investigate, or simply to tell a story. In the third case, there has to be an underlying reason and thesis behind the film’s narrative to make it compelling. Shocking events and recorded testimony can’t tell a story alone, at least not an interesting one. “The Imposter,” a dramatization of a French con artist’s efforts to convince a Texas family that he is their missing 16-year-old son, presents an intriguing premise but fails to deliver any satisfying opinions or conclusions.

Described as a “factual thriller,” this documentary includes narration and interviews done by actors portraying real-life people. Ideally, this would help lend both a sense of urgency and a cinematic quality to the story, turning its protagonist’s scam into a mystery, with twists and turns along the way. It’s also a fantastic opportunity to stage reenactments of events as they occurred rather than rely simply on interviews with the family members and the con artist himself. Instead, interviews are restated verbatim (presumably) and the few staged events are without dialogue and overcast by shadows. As a result, a device that could have been instrumental is completely ignored.

Another token aspect of a good documentary is its story arc. If there’s a mystery to be unveiled, it should be unfolded gradually throughout the film, presented as a question mark at the beginning and then revealed slowly as more facts emerge, just as in real life. Though his ultimately inconsequential identity is only mentioned at the tail end of the film, the imposter explains right off the bat his plan to deceive this family. There’s no allure since the facts are being read off in such a straightforward manner, and the true questions that should be answered aren’t, even by the end of the film.

A viewer that was unaware that actors and not the actual people were speaking in the film likely wouldn’t be able to deduce that particular fact, which doesn’t speak positively about the impact of the actors’ performances. Adam O’Brian is less than charismatic or convincing as the con artist, and the rest of the cast, particularly Anna Ruben as the 16-year-old’s sister and Cathy Dresbach as FBI Agent Nancy Fisher, turns in overdone impressions that decrease the film’s credibility. The idea behind this film, and its facts, are inherently interesting, but this film does a miserable job of bringing them to life.


1 comment:

Ezra Tanzer said...

Saw it tonight. Agree with the overacting part of the FBI agent & the sister, but didn't think it detracted from the film. I came into the movie not knowing that the characters were portrayed as actors, but the style of the individual interviews gave me the impression that these were at least restaged, if not completely acted. If anything, it was an interesting take on a documentary, and the story was pretty engaging. Much like some of the modern mystery documentary series, the lack of a real conclusion was unsatisfying, but I was engaged throughout the movie.