Category Archives: Indie

Review – The Imposter (15) [2012]

Star Rating: 4.5/5

Director:

  • Bart Layton – Breakout, Banged Up Abroad

Cast:

  • Adam O’Brian
  • Anna Ruben – Eternal, The Fallow Field
  • Frédéric Bourdin (himself)
  • Beverley Dollarhide (herself, Nicolas’ mother)
  • Carey Gibson (herself, Nicholas’ sister)
  • Codey Gibson (himself, Nicholas’ brother-in-law)
  • Charlie Parker (himself, FBI official)
  • Nancy Fisher (herself, FBI official)

The disappearance of children is nothing new, as Changeling and the case of Madeleine McCann can attest. Vanishing children is a deeply disturbing part of society and one that is not as rare as good people would like it to be. In the case of Nicholas Barclay, however, there were a series of unusual twists that would be too far-fetched for a soap opera. In brilliant fashion, The Imposter sheds light on this peculiar affair.

Nicholas Barclay, aged thirteen. This picture was taken shortly before he disappeared without trace after playing basketball with friends.

The Imposter is a documentary-style film about the vanishing of Nicholas Barclay in San Antonio, Texas, in June 1993. After no news for more than four years, in November 1997 the Barclay family received a call from Spain telling them that Nicholas had been found. Yet, when ‘Nicholas’ returned to America, he was no longer fair-skinned, blond-haired and blue-eyed. Rather, he had dark Arabic features, brown eyes, looked older than sixteen, and spoke with a distinctly French accent.

Nevertheless, the Barclay family took him in. They looked after him as if he were part of the family, unaware that ‘Nicholas’ was really Frédéric Bourdin (played by Adam O’Brian to depict ‘Nicholas’ when young).

The Imposter is a surprisingly gripping film that feels significantly shorter than its 99 minutes. Despite being neither a drama nor a thriller nor a horror movie, the film is dramatic, thrilling and unnerving (indeed, more so than many thrillers and horror movies). This is because The Imposter has been put together magnificently by Bart Layton by predominantly using old film footage of the actual events; few re-enactments, all of which are grounded; eerie music that gives the film an odd air of surrealism; and question-less interviews with the living members of the Barclay family, embassy officials and FBI-agents involved in the case, as well as Frédéric Bourdin, himself.

Frédéric Bourdin, whilst being interviewed during the film. Even though he is thirty-eight now and balding, with his dark features it is still incredible to believe that he managed to fool the Barclay family, the Spanish authorities, American embassy officials, and some FBI agents into thinking that he was Nicholas Barclay in 1997.

By putting the cameras directly in front of the interviewees, Layton has cleverly made the audience feel as if they are interviewing the cast themselves. Moreover, as the interviews and the storyline follow a logical/chronological order, viewers are able to feel a rare intimacy with the interviewees as well as with the events as and when they unfold.

Layton has also given each member of the cast a fair amount of time to explain his/her reasoning. This ensures that one can understand and empathise with the characters for why they behaved and reacted in the way they did.

That is not to say that all questions arising from the case are satisfactorily answered in The Imposter. (I won’t go into them as that would spoil the film.) It is also bizarre that little is mentioned of Nicholas’ older brother Jason, who died mysteriously of a drug overdose in 1998 not long after meeting ‘Nicholas.’ Surely, Layton could have interviewed some of Jason’s friends (assuming he had any) to get Jason’s side of the story or to get an idea of the sort of relationship Nicholas had with his older brother?

‘Nicholas’ (Adam O’Brian) back in school after returning from Spain. Did it not occur to Nicholas’ friends and teachers that he looked darker than he should have done and much older than a sixteen year old boy?

But the lingering question throughout the movie is: how did Nicholas’s mother, Beverley, not realise that it was not her son who arrived from Spain? Or, alternatively, did she know that ‘Nicholas’ wasn’t her son, yet played along with it for other reasons? It seems somewhat implausible that a mother, regardless of her intelligence, would fail to recognise her son in an instant, as Christine Collins (played superbly by Angelina Jolie) conversely illustrated in Changeling.

All-in-all, The Imposter elucidates admirably upon the weird ‘reappearance’ of Nicholas Barclay. The film powerfully makes one feel close to the events in an impressive, yet utterly unsettling way. This is not merely because of Bart Layton’s bold and well-executed documentary-style approach to the movie. It is because The Imposter is a non-dramatised true story, and deals with a disconcerting issue that is very pertinent to present-day society.

PG’s Tips

Review – Another Earth (12a) [2011]

Star Rating: 3.5/5

Throughout the ages, humanity has wondered if life exists on planets other than Earth. But if life were to be found, would curious mankind jump at the chance to venture into the unknown and meet the aliens (even if they looked like stereotypical Martians with antennas)? Despite contemplating these issues (well maybe not the Martians bit), the indie movie Another Earth is not about the convergence of humanity with aliens. Rather, it is a story of regret and the need for redemption.

Rhoda (Brit Marling) sitting on her own in her room. This is how she spends much of her time when she is not working.

The film centres round a promising young girl, called Rhoda (Brit Marling – Political Disasters, Sound Of My Voice, The East), who lives in New Haven, Connecticut. After getting accepted to MIT, seventeen year old Rhoda goes to a party and gets drunk. That night, as she is driving home, well over the alcohol limit, it is announced on the radio that another planet, identical to Earth, has been spotted in the sky. (It is also believed that as there is an ‘Earth II’, there is a ‘twin’ of everyone on Earth proper.) Whilst driving drunk and looking at the luminous sapphire dot in the sky, Rhoda crashes into another car, injuring a music composer, John Burrows (William Mapother – Mission: Impossible II, The Grudge, Static), and killing his wife and infant son.

Four years later, Rhoda is released from prison. Her life seemingly ruined, she spends much time by herself, longing for redemption and a second chance. She tries to apologise to John for the misery she has caused him, but loses her nerve upon meeting him.

Rhoda’s dream is to go to ‘Earth II.’ When she learns of a competition to go there, Rhoda writes in, hoping that she will be chosen so she can start again.

The storyline for Another Earth is easy to follow for the most part. It is only the space travel/time travel at the end (a tricky matter that so often goes badly wrong in movies, such as Déjà Vu and The Time Traveller’s Wife) that might confuse viewers. That it works in this film is a credit to director Mike Cahill.

John (William Mapother) talking with Rhoda. He doesn't realise who she is.

At 92 minutes, Another Earth is not long and has been made in an interesting way. Unlike Jeff Nichols’s art-style choice for Take Shelter, Cahill chose well by adopting an amateur, arty approach for his movie. One may find it irritating that the camera trembles and goes out of focus every so often, and that scenes jerk harshly from one to the next. In addition, one may find it odd that there is little dialogue throughout the film (although, there is considerably more in the latter stages of the film than at the beginning). However, if the movie had been shot in a more conformist way, it would have risked becoming laughable (as what happened with Fantastic Four I & II and The Adjustment Bureau, amongst countless other films).

That is not to say that Another Earth has no flaws. ‘Earth II’ (constantly) appears at varying levels of proximity from our world in different scenes. Moreover, Earth proper has no gravitational or tidal problems caused by the shifting closeness of ‘Earth II,’ which is totally unrealistic. (Apparently, there was a scene to illustrate these issues, but it was cut from the final edition.)

The film has its deficiencies, but the acting is not one of them. Whilst not memorable either, Brit Marling and William Mapother play decently with what they’ve been given, and both perform admirably in one particular scene.

It is hard to appreciate the effect that killing John’s family, jail and the crushing of her original ambitions (whatever they were) has had on Rhoda. This is because for much of her time on screen Rhoda is alone in silence, entailing that one doesn’t feel much empathy for her plight. Only the lack of happiness on her face, devouring her of her attractiveness, gives us a hint into Rhoda’s suffering and her need for salvation. Marling pulls this all off well.

Rhoda looking at the magnificent 'Earth II' in the sky. She yearns to somehow get there and start anew..

In contrast, it is not difficult to have sympathy for John. That John’s a mess emphasises, more than words could, that John has not recovered from the loss of his family. That John is quite distant and says little at first rams home this point. Mapother performs John’s aloofness, sorrow, temper and tenderness with great professionalism.

All-in-all, Another Earth is an interesting premise and an unconventional film. It may have relatively few conversations and be far from action packed; yet, it has some decent performances and is something different. Furthermore, the movie has a comforting moral message, for there are times when one needs a second chance in life.

PG’s Tips

Review – Red State (18) [2011]

Star Rating: 3/5

When one arranges a one night stand with someone they have not met in person via the internet (especially from a dodgy website), one is never certain if he/she is going to be a victim of a scam or something worse. Red State, whilst not about the pros and cons of adult-dating websites, illustrates the potential risks involved.

Travis, Jarod and Billy-Ray reading a message from Jarod's phone. The thee of them are so happy that they are (finally) going to end their 'loser status' by breaking their virginities.

Red State is loosely-based on the Westboro Baptist Church, which Louis Theroux has done two documentaries on. Set in the ‘bible-belt’ of America, three social misfits – Travis (Michael Angarano – Almost Famous, 24: Day 6, Noah’s Ark: The New Beginning), Billy-Ray (Nicholas Braun – Love At First Hiccup, Chalet Girl, Neighbourhood Watch) and Jarod (Kyle Gallner – The Haunting in Connecticut, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Jennifer’s Body) – have organised, via an internet chat-room, for the three of them to enjoy, together, the pleasures of Sara (Melissa Leo – Frozen River, The Fighter, Predisposed). Little do they know, though, that Sara is a part of the Five Point Church, a cultist Christian sect. After driving to her caravan, Sara uses this as an opportunity to capture the three teenagers and bring them to the church to be ‘tried’ for homosexuality, a crime punishable by death for this sect.

The cops soon learn that the church has the boys. Led by Joseph Keenan (John Goodman – The Big Lebowski, Monsters, Inc., The Artist), the cops intend to take the compound by storm, leading to a bloody confrontation.

Red State is a strangely gripping, highly unpredictable film, and has some surprisingly intelligent humour (which would have been so much funnier had not all of the jokes been used in the trailer). At 88 minutes, the movie is short, so audiences are unlikely to lose focus; especially, since the last half an hour is virtually a shoot out.

Pastor Abin Cooper (Michael Parks) addressing his congregation, who hang on to his every word as if he is Jesus's modern day reincarnation.

Whilst gunfire and explosions uphold (or regain) the attention of the viewers, it is the acting of two members of the supporting cast, Melissa Leo and Michael Parks (From Dusk Till Dawn, Kill Bill I & II, Argo), that make Red State worth watching. After her Oscar-winning performance in The Fighter, Leo gives another fantastic performance as one of the mad members of the church. As Sara, the fanaticism in Leo’s eyes is frightening, as is her belief in the cult. Parks, playing Pastor Abin Cooper, also plays very well, even if he is not spectacular. The passion he shows for the ideals of the church (without bursting into laughter) could easily make one believe that he is crazy in real life.

The rest of the cast are pathetic. The acting from the three social oddballs is atrocious, and the dialogue between them is just as bad. The amount of swearing, before and during captivity, is disgraceful. That the dialogue between them may reflect the language used by teenagers in ‘middle America’ or elsewhere is not the point. As a consequence of this, and their general performances throughout the film, viewers are unlikely to feel any empathy towards their characters.

Indeed, audiences are unlikely to come away feeling empathy for any of the characters, regardless of what they may think of the acting. In Red State, no-one is portrayed as a ‘good guy’, even the cops that are sent in to deal with the hostage situation. As one watches the melee unfold, one is likely to wonder if events like this actually take place in America, or if this is just a gross and gory exaggeration of the truth; for this film does not shy away from graphic bloodshed.

A man (Cooper Thornton) given a 'fair trial' for the 'crime' of homosexuality before the members of the church.

Although one may find the amount of violence a trifle unnecessary (not that that is grounds for criticism), one will almost certainly feel that the film needs better production. The choreography is appalling to the point of amateur, since many of the scenes jerk into place rather than smoothly link. Just as sloppy are the special effects, which appear painted in as an afterthought by the director, Kevin Smith (Dogma, Clerks II, Zack & Miri Make A Porno). The music may not be awful, but it is certainly nothing noteworthy either.

Over-all, Red State is an oddly enjoyable movie. Many aspects of the film are pitiable, but the performances of Melissa Leo and Michael Parks save the movie from near disaster. That there are people in real life who believe in similar ideals as zealously as members of the Five Point Church gives Red State some chilling realism. Moreover, the film may even have a (strong) message: don’t arrange a one night stand on the internet without knowing who you’re getting into bed with.

PG’s Tips