Ain't It Cool News (
Movie News

The story behind the doc THE IMPOSTER is so crazy Quint had to make sure he wasn't Catfished! SXSW 2012

Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with some thoughts on a film called The Imposter. Here’s how crazy this documentary is: after it was over I hit up Wikipedia because I thought the filmmakers were pulling a fast one on me. That’s how paranoid I get when I see unbelievable docs. Thanks, Catfish.

But no, this is a real story. I’m going to tell you the main hook and you’re going to think I’m spoiling the movie for you, but I’m really not. This isn’t even the crazy part of the movie. So, a Texas family’s pre-teen son disappears one day. Just doesn’t come home. No ransom, no body, no evidence that he ran away with the circus… nothing. Three years later they get a call saying their son has been found in Spain.

Even with the incredibly vague set-up above when you consider the title it’s not exactly a surprise for me to say it’s not their son. It’s not that revelation, however, that makes this doc so compelling, it’s how the family deals with it.

The boy who went missing was a blonde-haired, blue-eyed American kid who would be around 16 at this point and the guy professing to be the missing boy is a brown-eyed man with a five o’clock shadow and a French accent.

And the family accepts him as their son.

The audience is in on it from about the 4 minute mark since the titular imposter, Frederic Bourdin, actually serves as our narrator, describing the ridiculous series of events that lead to the biggest lie he ever told and his utter disbelief that it worked.

Not only did he pull a fast one on foreign authorities, he also somehow tricked the CIA and was issued an American passport to return “home.”

If this was written in a feature script every studio in Hollywood would pass on it for being too unrealistic, so this really is a case where truth is stranger than fiction.

The power of the doc comes from the family’s acceptance of this stranger. They blind themselves to every rational warning sign out of sheer desire for him to be their missing son or brother. It’s a fascinating case study on seeing what you want to see and ignoring the rest.

There’s no doubt Bourdin is a very charming and persuasive guy, but the con he pulled off is epic on the scale of head-scratching unbelievability, which is why I wanted to look it up afterwards to make sure this wasn’t a work of fiction pass off as a talking heads doc.

And as I mentioned earlier, the movie goes into even weirder territory than I described above and absolutely worth seeking out just to see how bugnuts it goes. My only criticism is that I think they rely way too much on dramatizations. Re-enactments in documentaries is a personal pet peeve and they do it A LOT in this movie, which makes it feel more like a TV special than a fully formed documentary.

I couldn’t begin to figure out how to tell this story without the dramatization, but I do know it weighed the film down for me considerably. If they had somehow kept it with the CIA agents, the foreign police, Bourdin and the effected family I would have been mesmerized and without a nit to pick in the whole thing. But that’s a nit and by God I’m picking it.



-Eric Vespe
Follow Me On Twitter

Readers Talkback
comments powered by Disqus
    + Expand All
  • March 11, 2012, 3:01 p.m. CST

    Sounds great.

    by MrPaisley

    Probably be hard to find it until Netflix.

  • March 11, 2012, 3:03 p.m. CST

    I was going to say the exact same thing, mrpaisley

    by Alec.Eiffel

    Sounds great, can't wait to see it.

  • March 11, 2012, 3:09 p.m. CST


    by JAMF

  • What was up with that? Dudes don't really get tattoos designed on their lower backs, do they? Certainly not straight dudes. And accepting that guy was straight is key to believing he falls in love with some chick half way across the country, etc. etc. Not sure if the rest of CATFISH is fake or not, but I definitely think that guy's sexual orientation is debatable. But, THE IMPOSTER sounds terrific. Can't wait to see it.

  • March 11, 2012, 3:34 p.m. CST

    A Texas family, you say?

    by Huey_Freemans_afro

    I'm trying VERY hard to ignore the mean and unfair association of the great Lone Star State to the great number of stupid people it is allegedly populated with. Seriously, I WANT to assume that this was a family of reasonable intelligence that was somehow driven mad with grief. ... But giving them the benefit of the doubt is like trying to perform an act of goddamn telekinesis.

  • March 11, 2012, 3:40 p.m. CST

    Does the film touch on the VERY questionable morality

    by Madcapper

    of posing as the lost son to a grieving family? I mean, it sounds interesting Quint, but what the fuck makes a man do that to strangers?

  • March 11, 2012, 3:45 p.m. CST

    I still don't believe Catfish was real, any of it

    by sunwukong86

    How did that woman create all those Facebook profiles? She seriously wasted all her time looking for photos and setting up fake profiles? I doubt anyone is that crazy

  • I will NOT think of shitty small towns, Wal-Mart Supercenters, obesity, fast food, crazy churches, pine trees, rednecks, guns, cheap domestic beers, anti-immigration, racist cops, racist teachers, racist dad of the cute girl next door (STOP, DAMMIT!)... DON'T think of homophobes. Don't think of the American girl who got deported. Don't think of the death penalty. Don't think of the omissions to the history books. Don't think of "family values". Don't think of George W... ah, fuck. The reinforcement of the idea is now like an auto-upgrade to Iron Man's suit just unfolding the fuck right over me.

  • March 11, 2012, 4:03 p.m. CST

    Actually sounds kind of sad

    by BenBraddock

    as well as plenty nuts.

  • March 11, 2012, 4:12 p.m. CST

    The entirety of catfish felt like a re-enactment

    by I_Fart_Huckabees

    seriously. like maybe some of it happened but they weren't taping it. Then later they said lets make a doc and they re-enacted and embellished.

  • March 11, 2012, 4:19 p.m. CST

    It's impostor with an "O"

    by shazaka

  • March 11, 2012, 4:50 p.m. CST


    by IAmTommyWiseau

  • March 11, 2012, 4:58 p.m. CST

    The Chameleon

    by hdbenfield

    I first knew about this story when David Orr wrote his amazing New Yorker piece back in '08. They have since produced a crappy straight-to-dvd adaptation starring Famke Janssen. Excited that this story finally seems to be getting the treatment it deserves!

  • March 11, 2012, 5:03 p.m. CST

    the acting in Catfish wasn't good enough to pass as a true story

    by awepittance

  • March 11, 2012, 5:09 p.m. CST

    is the family that fucking stupid?

    by Bouncy X

    nobody changes so drastically between 13 and 16 that you wouldnt recognize them, especially not your own damn family. so you would of course be able to recognize him if it was the real kid. so either this is all fake and whatnot or they are the stupidest people in existance.

  • March 11, 2012, 5:33 p.m. CST


    by paul burnett

    ..That was the only thought in my mind as well..has the real son been found?

  • March 11, 2012, 5:48 p.m. CST

    It can happen. Remember "Changeling"? Also true story.

    by Ricardo

    Some people are so desperate that they lose all ability to logical thinking.

  • March 11, 2012, 6:58 p.m. CST

    I think he is a she and I think she is a changeling

    by Mel

  • March 11, 2012, 7:01 p.m. CST

    Catfish was full of shit

    by LastButNotLeastNinja

    Were they living in some alternate universe where skype didn't exist? The entire premise is faulty. Spinal Tap was more convincing as a matter of FACT!

  • March 11, 2012, 7:55 p.m. CST

    What do hipsters have to do with anything?

    by Huey_Freemans_afro

  • March 11, 2012, 9:19 p.m. CST

    I call BULLSHIT

    by RobertCrane

    There is no way my son could go missing at 16 be gone for 3 years and someone else pass himself off as him. Sorry. I would do blood test, check for old scars and scrapes. Sorry. This would work as fictional not as a real story for me.

  • March 11, 2012, 9:35 p.m. CST

    All you doubters...

    by MonkMayfair

    As long as you don't mind the huge spoiler for the film's story, check out the New Yorker article linked above. All your questions are good ones, and you're not the first to ask them. Huge twist in this story, and it all comes together to make sense of an insane situation. Fuckin' amazing..... Looking forward to the film.

  • March 11, 2012, 10:27 p.m. CST

    what is this catfish?

    by MurderMostFowl

    I'm too lazy to hit up IMDB at the moment... Seems like everyone saw that movie but me... I've never heard of it

  • March 11, 2012, 11:38 p.m. CST

    It does sound pretty fucking sad

    by Rupee88

    I don't get it....this guy sounds like a major douche/evil fuck and he is the protagonist of sorts in this story??

  • March 12, 2012, 12:02 a.m. CST


    by Binkysguy

    Ok, I just read that longassed article. What twist are you referring to?

  • March 12, 2012, 2:14 a.m. CST

    Regarding the Changeling Story

    by Todd1700

    As I recall the mother in that case knew that the boy returned to her was not her son and told the police. The crux of that story was that the authorities wouldn't believe her.

  • March 12, 2012, 4:10 a.m. CST

    Reason the Family Took in the Imposter

    by Todd1700

    Monkmayfair is right. There is a reason this guy was able to pull this off, or maybe that is not even the right way to describe the situation. After reading the New Yorker story I understand now but will not give away the twist to anyone that plans to see the film.

  • March 12, 2012, 8:59 a.m. CST

    Buckwheat is right

    by readyoufool

    The real son shows up towards the end, but then the doc takes an even darker twist when **spoiler** the mom straps him to her chest and jumps into a lake in Canada, in some kind of a crazy murder/suicide.**end spoiler**

  • March 12, 2012, 9:49 a.m. CST

    BOMB in his RIBCAGE!!!

    by Nasty In The Pasty

    Whoops, wrong Imposter...

  • March 12, 2012, 11:23 a.m. CST

    I don't understand how Catfish pulled one over on anybody

    by Bass Ackwards

    I didn't believe that film was real for a second, I was shocked by the end of year discussions that debated whether it was real or not, I didn't get how anyone could think it was. Same with Joaquin doc, i never saw it but knew during the filming it was all bs and had no idea how people could actually be arguing over whether it was real or not (course Affleck blew his wad and fessed up opening day that that one was fake).

  • March 12, 2012, 11:33 a.m. CST

    SPOILER question on whether the real son turns up

    by kevred

    SPOILER here, turn away now! From what I can tell via web searches (and the New Yorker story linked above), the real son still has never been found, and the investigation of the family for possible involvement is also unresolved. Would someone who has seen the film or knows for sure care to confirm this, once and for all?

  • dumbass.

  • March 12, 2012, 11:41 a.m. CST

    Everyone seems convinced Catfish was phony but...

    by StanGrossman

    It's now been a couple of years and there hasn't been any smoking gun that proves beyond a doubt it was staged. Someday someone will do an in depth investigation of some kind.

  • March 12, 2012, 2:36 p.m. CST

    bass ackwards

    by Rupee88

    because a lot of people are fucking stupid...dumber than we can even possibly fathom

  • March 13, 2012, 9:19 a.m. CST

    Most creepy part of Catfish were the sons

    by Joe Plumber

    If that was acting then those dudes deserve Oscars.