The Films of Bart Layton
The Imposter (November 19/12)
An increasingly fascinating documentary, The Imposter explores the unbelievable case of a Frenchman who passed himself off as a missing 16-year-old from Texas - with the young boy's family immediately convinced by the con man's far-from-convincing performance. Filmmaker Bart Layton has augmented The Imposter's real-life footage - ie interviews with all the major players - with a fictionalized portrayal of the described events, with this strategy initially serving only to detract from the inherently engrossing nature of the real events. There does reach a point, however, at which the blending of fiction and non-fiction begins to pay off, as the progressively enthralling narrative, for lack of a better word, ensures that the viewer is completely and utterly drawn into the jaw-dropping tale that's being spun by the movie's various participants. (It really is incredible, for example, just how many impossible-to-predict twists there are within the movie's brisk 99 minute running time.) The movie's captivating atmosphere is heightened by the participation of several irresistibly off-kilter figures, including an incredulous FBI agent and, most notably, a scrappy private investigator who quickly establishes himself as the real star of the proceedings (ie one almost wishes there were a reality TV series revolving around his folksy antics) - which ultimately does confirm The Imposter's place as one of the most involving and compelling documentaries to come around in quite some time.
Based on a true story, American Animals follows four friends (Barry Keoghan's Spencer, Evan Peters' Warren, Jared Abrahamson's Eric, and Blake Jenner's Chas) as they conspire to steal a series of rare books - with the fairly meticulous planning eventually paving the way for a heist that doesn't quite go according to plan. Filmmaker Bart Layton punctuates American Animals with interviews with the story's real-life figures, which, though initially somewhat distracting, ultimately does prove effective in filling in the backstory for the movie's events and characters - although, admittedly, the writer/director occasionally does use this device to a somewhat shameless (and eye-rolling) degree (eg the color of a scarf changes depending on which individual is telling the story). It's clear, then, that the picture benefits substantially from the inherently compelling plot and raft of strong performances, as Layton delivers a familiar yet perfectly watchable heist narrative that contains many of the elements one has come to anticipate from the genre (and a few that perhaps aren't quite so expected). The almost two hour running time, however, ensures that American Animals suffers from a number of lulls throughout, and it's clear, as well, that the movie's climactic stretch isn't quite as impactful as it probably could (and should) have been - which is a shame, certainly, given that the movie is, for the most part, an engaging feature/documentary hybrid that cements Layton's place as a promising new cinematic voice.