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Criticwire Picks: 'The Imposter' Sneaks to the Top

Photo of Steve Greene By Steve Greene | Criticwire July 11, 2012 at 1:25PM

After playing the festival circuit since Sundance, Bart Layton's stylized documentary ventures its way to theaters as this week's Criticwire Pick.
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Bart Layton's "The Imposter."
Bart Layton's "The Imposter."

Last week, as part of his Critic’s Notebook column, Indiewire’s Eric Kohn compared the impending hit "The Dark Knight Rises" with Bart Layton’s "The Imposter," a documentary that’s been turning heads since its Sundance premiere in January. He wrote that despite the oversaturation of spoiler-inviting elements in popular culture, these two films have appeal beyond the details of their plots. Whether or not audiences will make a similar connection between the two films, critics have responded favorably to "The Imposter," giving it a B+ grade average and the designation of our Criticwire Pick as it opens this week.

The documentary tells the story of a Texas family whose child goes missing, only for him to inexplicably appear again in Spain years later. As the family is reunited with their son, they begin to perceive that the boy who returns home is noticeably different than the one who left. With its many reenactments and twists, it’s possible that some people might find "The Imposter" overly manipulative. But, for some critics, the wild changes from scene to scene only enhance its allure. Christopher Campbell wrote in his True/False Festival dispatch for Movies.com that the film "has its share of complicated and provocative filmmaking choices, but they're the kind that leave you with much to think about rather than complain about." Kate Erbland of Film School Rejects agrees that an intimate knowledge of the true-life news stories won’t detract from an enjoyment of the film. She writes: "Even with a strong grasp of the film’s subject matter, it’s hard not to be totally blown away by what plays out on-screen, to become gape-mouthed in the face of so much (hyperbole aside) insanity." Film.com’s William Goss highlights the way that "The Impostor" makes bare all the characters’ motivations and flaws, that it "doesn’t just offer up the closest thing to the honest truth in a still slippery case, it doles out the real-life revelations with a skilled precision that keeps the film exciting without ever becoming exploitative."

"Dogtooth" was one of the more surprising and well-received festival films of 2009 when it debuted at Cannes. Director Yorgos Lanthimos’ follow-up is "Alps," another film that might work best if you don't know too much about it ahead of time. The Playlist’s Oliver Lyttleton states very plainly at the beginning of his review, "We recommend you go in to 'Alps' as cold as possible. It's not quite like anything you've seen...and part of its pleasure is watching it play out. There's no giant twist or anything, but we're glad we saw it the way we did: knowing only a brief synopsis and nothing else." This is a common theme through many of the other reviews that came out of Venice last year and since. If you so desire, feel free to click through and read on, but consider this here a spoiler alert.

Here’s a less troubling real-life spoiler for you: Things didn’t turn out so well for Marie Antoinette. The subject of many other forms of somewhat-fictionalized entertainment in the years since her reign as queen of France, Antoinette returns to theaters this weekend in "Farewell, My Queen." Here, Diane Kruger stars as the ill-fated icon, in an adaptation of the historical events that Hitfix’s Guy Lodge argues plays out more commonplace that the recent "Marie Antoinette." "Indeed, 'Farewell, My Queen' operates as the moderate, less excitingly intuitive flipside to Sofia Coppola’s freeform imagining of the same tangy period in history," Lodge writes, adding, "It’s both the handsomely lensed and designed corset-opera and the brittle Benoit Jacquot drama different parties might arrived expecting – but as pastel-toned, festival-opening macaroons go, its soured cream filling is an asset." For many critics, the film succeeds or fails on the strength of the central love triangle between Antoinette, one of her female servants and another well-to-do lady of France. Jon Frosch writes in The Atlantic that "rather than play up the latent (and sometimes not-so-latent) lesbianism for cheap effect, Jacquot smartly focuses on the toxic relationships—colored by need, desire, manipulation, and fantasy—between the various classes of French society."

Other releases garnering generally favorable reviews from critics include the new Swedish crime thriller "Easy Money," "Family Portrait in Black and White," a documentary about adoption in Ukraine, and "Trishna," Michael Winterbottom’s adaptation of "Tess of the d’Urbervilles."

Criticwire: Films Opening This Week
NOTE: The averages listed here are current as of the publishing of this article and are subject to change as new grades come in.

The Imposter (Film Page)
Average Criticwire rating: B+ (9.190 out of 12.0)

Easy Money (Film Page)
Average Criticwire rating(8.0 out of 12.0)

Alps (Film Page)
Average Criticwire rating(7.957 out of 12.0)

Family Portrait in Black and White (Film Page)
Average Criticwire rating(7.667 out of 12.0)

Farewell, My Queen (Film Page)
Average Criticwire ratingB- (7.357 out of 12.0)

Trishna (Film Page)
Average Criticwire rating: B- (6.692 out of 12.0)

Union Square (Film Page)
Average Criticwire ratingC+ (6.0 out of 12.0)

Red Lights (Film Page)
Average Criticwire rating(4.789 out of 12.0)

For more information about this week’s releases and those scheduled for the weeks to come, be sure to check out the Coming Soon section.

This article is related to: Criticwire Picks, The Imposter, Alps, Farewell, My Queen, Easy Money, Family Portrait in Black and White, Trishna


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