The Chameleon (2010) Poster


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An intriguing case made to a less intriguing movie
BloedEnMelk27 October 2011
"The Chameleon" is roughly based on the case of the disappearance of Nicholas Barclay, and the impostor Frederic Bourdin.

The movie stays reasonably close to the facts, though there are some mayor things changed that IMO was totally unnecessary. At the same time, more could have been done with other things. I am on purpose gonna keep this all pretty vague; as I do not want to spoil anything. If you want to know about the real case, google on it. It is a very interesting thing to do.

I would definitely have liked to have seen more background about Frederic. The case of Nicholas wasn't the first time he imposed as a missing child, neither was it the last time. As if the whole story about Nicholas wasn't bizarre enough, it gets more and more bizarre if you read up on Bourdin. He truly deserves the name Chameleon; it is incredible how good this guy is at languages and in blending in. I do understand that the movie's focus was on only one of his crimes, but I think a bit more history would have made it all even more absurd. Now, you almost feel at least a bit pity for Bourdin, but that should not happen. After all, the guy was/is a very disturbed man who didn't give a *beep* about the feelings of his victims.

The overall acting was not very good. Famke Janssen made the best of it and steals the scenes when she comes in, but I was unfortunately pretty unconvinced by the lead character. The way the story unfolds was just not good enough to convince, and the characters way too shallow. Many things are there in potential, but somehow it just doesn't work. It could have been an 'edge of your seat' thriller or drama, but it simply isn't. Throughout the whole story, it just lacks something. An other reviewer used the word 'dull', and I think that's quite a good description.

All in all; an intriguing case made to a less intriguing movie.

(Ps: An interesting little fact; Bourdin himself worked as a creative consultant for this movie. )
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Festival des Films du Monde, 31 August 2010
joelcuerrier-11 September 2010
Warning: Spoilers
I have seen this movie yesterday and the director went on to ask that we post reviews of his movie on this very site during the Q&A, so I shall oblige. The heart of the problem seem to be that his vision was rejected by the producers and that the final cut done by the producers is such a disgrace that he is going around in festivals to show his own cut.

When I asked him if or when the movie would be released in North-America, he answered that it would most likely go directly to DVD, which is a shame cause it really was a tense, effective thriller, faithful to the real events it depict in a stylistically gorgeous mastery. It is a psychological thriller with great actors and a subtly photographed scenery of the deep south, in the down and dirty poor neighborhood of the drugged and drunk underclass. Of course, it isn't really uplifting, but the characters are real people playing out their desperation. The narrative is well constructed and keep you interested through out, especially in the case you had no idea about the event it portrays, you'll get drawn to it only through the sheer magnetism of the central character, who also happen to be despicable in many ways, like everyone else around him.

So, let's hope you'll get a chance to see this, the way it was intended to be seen. The director's cut wasn't longish or uselessly shocking, one part that was deleted involved the main character shaving his whole body in the first scene. Perhaps, for the prude and easily upset, it could be disturbing, but isn't that key to building tension in a thriller, to disturb the audience. This first scene should be in the movie, cause it is key to the psychology of the main character. Seeing a grown man shave the hair off his chest shouldn't be cause for concern, especially these days when many men are doing it to follow a trend that made hairy men undesirable. It's a surprising scene, as it is something I never seen depicted on screen, but I don't believe it would offend neither men nor women. There is no actual nudity and very little violence in this movie.

To conclude, if you have a chance and it is playing in a festival near you, try to see it and review it too. I believe it should get to be seen and get a proper distribution. It's a solid thriller that wasn't just meant to do the festival circuit.
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Thuddingly Dull
gradyharp14 August 2011
CHAMELEON, we are told at the beginning of this film, is based on a true story about a French lad who disguises himself as other people as a way of gaining attention and 'love' which is apparently missing in his life as a near orphan. Written by Natalie Carter and writer/director Jean-Paul Salomé it misses the opportunity to use a factual story and transpose it to the screen in such a way that we care enough about the characters to become involved in the unfolding of this charade. Unfortunately the writing and the casting and directing work against this and the result is a surprisingly uninvolving, fairly boring tale.

Nicholas Barclay (Marc-André Grondin) has been missing since age 13, for reasons unclear to the town's people in Baton Rouge. LA. Nicholas shows up in Spain after an auto accident, is treated for PTSD and is mutely amnesic until he suddenly talks and lets the hospital people know that he is Nicholas Barclay, a missing person. He states he was kidnapped and forced into a child prostitution ring that involved rape, abuse and torture - the reasons he gives for his lack of memory. Nicholas's sister Kathy (Emilie de Ravin) spends her last money to fly to France to pick up her lost brother and return him 'home' - to his chain-smoking depressed mother Kimberly (Ellen Barkin in a surprisingly monotone, phoned-in performance), Kathy's husband Brian (Brian Geraghty) and his sociopathic brother Brendan (Nick Stahl). Nicholas's identity is not clear to his family, except for his sister Kathy who offers compassion and fights for Nicholas' rights: the others doubt that their Nicholas is alive because of events they know to be true. The FBI in the persons of Tory Kittles and Famke Janssen investigate, doubting that Nicholas is who he says he is. After a dysfunctional attempt to relate to most of his family, his story starts to unravel and the true story of what happened to Nicholas starts to emerge: 'Nicholas' is Frédéric Bourdin, who after having plundered all the centers for runaway minors and delinquents in Europe, even though he has come of age, now passes himself off as Nicholas Barclay, shaves his body hair, and attempts to a carry off another 'chameleon caper' in the US.

The cinematic aspects of the film fail to make the story involving: the colors are so washed out that it appears to be made on cheap film, the story is disjointed with such scenes as Nicholas shaving his body hair really adding little to the tale, the surprisingly dull performance by Ellen Barkin is a shock, and Marc-André Grondin is simply not up to making us realize the potential of this fascinating story. Famke Janssen and Brian Geraghty make the most of the roles they are given, but otherwise the cast is unremarkable.

Grady Harp
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disappointing Ammuture
Saad Khan11 June 2012
La Chameléon – The Chameleon – TRASH IT (C) The movie is based upon the true life of European impostor Frédéric Bourdin. He has been in more than 100 houses all over the Europe pretending as their missing sons. His reason for living with different families is not because he wants to rob or hurt them but he just want to seek "Love and Affection". The movie takes place when he caught first time pretending to be teen missing child in taxes, USA in age 25. The premise of the movie is really interesting but poor direction and weak screenplay made it completely mediocre and sloppy. The director never knew whether he wanted this movie to be a family drama or a thriller. Marc-Andre Grondin was good but lacked proper direction as times he was sweet and at times he seemed psychopath. Emilie De Ravin, Famke Jensen and Brian Geraghty did a fine job. Nick Stahl and Ellen Berkin performance was over the top. On the whole, it's very mediocre and doesn't do justice to the story.
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An acquired taste movie
dollarbillsemail29 August 2011
Warning: Spoilers
I found "The Chameleon" a somewhat difficult movie to critique. It's the true story of a young man that lives his life either through the fictitious characters that he creates or through real people whose identities he assumes. The movie centers on one such event in his life where he assumes the identity of a mother's long missing son. When he is reunited with this acquired Louisiana family,he ends up getting more than he bargained for. The mother is a chain smoking drug addict. The sister is guilt ridden over not having protected the real brother prior to his disappearance. The step brother is abusive,threatening and possibly a murderer. Of course,they don't know that he's really not their long lost relative…..or do they. Each of them,in their own different twisted way,seem to need him and he,them. So,the truth really doesn't matter. Meanwhile,there are two F.B.I. agents who are suspicious of the impostor,one of which has her own dark secret and reason for investigating the case. You have interesting characters here and very good performances by everyone. Moreover,it's presented very effectively in a realistic gritty manner. That said,this movie will not appeal to everyone and probably not to most. Why? It's as if you walked into a theater after the movie started and left before it ended. What you see is a snapshot into these character's lives….. and it's done very well. However,you have no idea how the characters got to the point they're at and you're given no answers at the end. I suppose that it could be best categorized as a good art house movie.
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Muddled screenplay redeemed by some fine acting
perkypops5 August 2012
We can never be sure about dramatised true stories because tricks are played on our memories even as we try to retell with accuracy. This story of a character who is unlikely to be who he claims to be from the start is as much about doubts as it is about rebuilding hopes. From the opening shots of a body hunt through to the final frames this film attempts to tackle the driving forces of all the characters who make up the plot by showing up flaws and how all of us are sometimes drawn to papering over cracks in our thoughts.

The film is quite clever in raising doubt in our minds because every player seems flawed from Fortin/Randall (Grondin), through Kimberly (Barkin), to Johnson (Janssen) as an FBI agent who seems to have no doubts. Perhaps a clumsy unevenness in the screenplay sometimes makes following the story a little less taut than it should be, but I could not fault the quality of the acting.

Even a family torn apart by an undisclosed tragedy seem very adept at keeping things as they are when redemption is a possibility but the actual interaction between them is not well rehearsed in this script. Too much focus is perhaps played on the mother's relationship with her "son" when there was perhaps a lot of mileage elsewhere.

I would guess many people would want a more commercial ending to a film like this and that has probably detracted from it popularity since it does stick to events as they happened but for me the real let down, having such a great cast, was a failure to grasp the real guts of the story and perhaps reveal a little more of what really may have happened.

Seven out of ten for acting from a fine cast.
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Not interesting. Flawed in almost all accounts.
Rodrigo Amaro30 November 2013
When the fiction is more unsatisfying than the real life, then you're in a big trouble. "The Chameleon" is a weak film because it fails to generate interest in a real life story that has all the elements that could make into a great project. The director made questions he couldn't answer and we couldn't figure out possible reasons for all what happened in the events surrounding a young French (Marc-André Grondin) who claims to be the disappeared son of a poor American family, "returning" to his home after being kidnapped and taken to Europe. The problem is that it's obvious that some members of the family know that this French accented guy can't be Nicky, but they continue with this game until an FBI agent (Famke Janssen) get suspicious about this sudden reappearance.

Its cheap insistence in creating a mystery bigger than the one existing just doesn't work, with the skeletons in the family's closet with people who knew about the kid's real fate, like his older brother (Nick Stahl). And we are easily bothered by the lack of choices, lack of ways for the story to move in a proper manner. A movie like this can't dwell in the psychology involving the main character, therefore we'll never understand the reasoning behind the boy's staying with people who don't care about him. Why the hell he'd trade his erroneous life in France by shooting in the dark with a strange and careless American family, or why he didn't run away from this family he adopted, a bunch of people who wouldn't provide for him with anything? He's not getting much by staying there, no indicative that he's winning something.

The cast tries a little bit harder than what the script can offer to them make something worthy of our attention. Grondin is a fine actor as evidenced in "C.R.A.Z.Y." but here there's only glimpses of that actor, his duality of angelical innocence with some darker traits is relatively good; Janssen was pretty decent and the more her character progress the more we like her, same goes with Emile De Ravin and Brian Geraghty, doing their best; Ellen Barkin was distractive while trying to be exceptional as the mother.

As a drama, it's not as compelling as the plot sounds and could be; as a thriller is just dull and worthless. Bits of decent acting aren't enough to make it tolerable or watchable. 4/10
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This movie DOES realize the story's potential - it's just a boring story
jm107018 July 2012
I decided not to mark this review for possible spoilers, since this movie is about a true story and therefore most people who are interested in seeing it will already know how it ends. Besides, several previous reviews tell more than I will about the end, and they got through without spoiler warnings.

First off, it's ridiculous to praise Ellen Barkin's acting just because she's practically unrecognizable: that's called makeup, not acting. Maybe she should be commended for allowing herself to look so awful, but she never was much in the looks department either. The best I can say is that she doesn't ruin this movie as she has some others. Her one-note performance certainly is unusual, but unusual doesn't necessarily mean great.

Second, the problem with movies based on true stories is that if the story isn't interesting the movie usually isn't interesting either. At first I wondered why I had never heard of any of these people before, under any names, and now I know why: there's nothing interesting about them - not the screwed-up, depressed family and not the neurotic, narcissistic bozo who duped them.

Famke Janssen adds a little bit of interest just because she's a charismatic person, but that plus Barkin's mousy, greasy, depressed, anorexic chain-smoking junkie are not enough to sustain a very boring story about very boring people.
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Great Story, poor acting&directing
The Chameleon is not as good as The Imposter, but still this movie is pretty clever. Actually, it gives you more doubts than documentary, cause it does not much follow the line of real story. The Imposter mostly concentrates on actions of Frédéric Fortin, on crimes he's committed and leaves Randall family beyond the interest. However, the movie itself is more complex giving a closer look to every character.

Writers did a great job mixing documented material with fiction one. They clearly show development of main characters after Nicholas's comeback. The script makes you concentrate on three topics: first is Frédéric (or Nicholas) who is kind of shocked as he is introduced to family members closer. As time goes by, he understands that he came in "wrong" place, because they are definitely making his life worse. Every new family, Frédéric has "returned" to before, welcomed him, made him feel comfortable, but not Randalls, because they have their reasons, why Nicholas should not be back.

Another story is how FBI thinks of this sudden appearance of kidnapped child. Famke Jensen is the only agent who does not believe in any words of Nicholas and his family. Therefore, she decides to hold an inquiry independently. This investigations lead us to the third story, which is story of Randall family itself.

They seem to be not that happy by arrival of long lost child. But still they have no doubt that he, whoever came back, is their little boy and that is why they refused to do a DNA test, or cooperate with police. They know something that is hidden from everyone.

These three stories make a superb and horribly interesting movie. Potentially, The Chameleon could be far more better film, because it can easily attract one's attention, thrill you and make you wanting more about this topic. But still I found it average. Mostly the reason is pure directing and acting. I believe that this film could be more engaging and powerful if Jean-Paul Salome had worked more on visualization of whole idea. The camera-work and acting panel could be better and yes! this kid of movie really needs better actors. The only performance I enjoyed was Emilie de Ravin as a sister of Nicholas. I have never seen Marc-André Grondin (Frederic, Nicholas) before and I think he was not the best choice for the role.

The biggest dignity of The Chameleon is that in the final scenes, it almost clearly shows what really happened to real Nicholas Mark Randall
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