on 6 February 2013
I don't ordinarily review movies on Amazon, unless there's something wrong with the packaging, picture quality, etc. In this case, however, I think a defense needs to be mounted.
I've been seeing a dearth of people complain about one of three things:
1. This isn't a film, it's a documentary.
2. The family/police are stupid, therefor this movie is stupid.
3. It's boring/fell asleep.
Number one is something that always gets stuck in my craw, though I don't think all the fault can land on the viewer. "Films" and "documentaries" are not mutually exclusive. I think most of the confusion for this stems from services like Netflix and Hulu, which lump cinematic, theatrically released docs with History and Discovery Channel specials. Documentaries are an equally valid way of telling a compelling and interesting story, and in some cases the best choice. Take The Imposter: it presents a story so outlandish and unbelievable that, in a narrative film setting it wouldn't hold up under any kind of scrutiny; the only thing that makes it believable is that real people are sitting right in front of you saying "yes, this really happened." Which brings me to complaint number two.
"These characters are stupid, how could they not tell?" I can sympathize with these complaints a bit when they're lobbied against fictional horror films, but in this case it seems unfair. First of all, the behavior of the people being documented isn't a reason for the document itself being bad. If anything, this is a selling point of the film; "How could they possibly not know? I have to watch to find out." Never mind that this point factors into the plot later in the movie, but it doesn't make the film makers dumb for wanting to document it. It would be a pretty short film if the family immediately realized what was going on, now wouldn't it?
The last point is what really gets me. I've never been of the mind that the common audience member requires explosions and car chases to maintain interest in a film; I believe that most people are able to adjust their expectations for different kinds of movies. To say that this movie is boring flabbergasts me a bit, but for the moment I'll let that pass. I think this partially falls on that this is a documentary, and features a lot of people talking, as documentaries often do. The reason I'm confused is that what they're talking about is interesting, and interviews are cross cut in a way that the story is told fluid through various people. They'll finish each other's sentences, contradict each other, and give different sides to the same story. All it asks is for your attention.
Now, if you personally subscribe to any of the complaints listed above, I don't think that you're stupid or have bad taste. I'm not trying to make you feel small. I understand that documentary can seem like a genre reserved solely for education (I blame this on the History Channel and scores of lazy substitute teachers). The reason I took the time to write this exhaustive rebuttal is because I want to dispose of the myth that documentaries are boring, stale, or apart from the family of fiction film. Documentaries, as I said, can be just as exciting, engaging, and emotional. If you're unsure that documentaries are for you, The Imposter is a great place to start. It's very cinematic, it plays with sound design in really interesting ways that continually blurs the line between fiction and reality. Both the cinematographer and editor have backgrounds in fiction film, which makes this a great stepping stone to other documentaries. Finally, the central character in the film, Frederic Bourdin, is a fascinating guy. He's charismatic, friendly, and terribly unsettling to watch. Each bit of information you learn about him seems to reveal more missing pieces to the puzzle, rather than a step closer to completing it. And trust me, the title of the film doesn't give away the "twist," which, when it really does come, will knock your socks clean off.
I can't recommend this film enough. Give it a shot. Heck, if you watched it once and didn't like it, watch it again with my arguments in mind (I mean, you already bought it, right? Might as well get some mileage out of it). From there it's just a skip and hop to the poetic beauty of Errol Morris, the delightful weirdness of Werner Herzog, and the lyrical abstraction of Ron Fricke.