The Chameleon

The Chameleon (2010)
★ / ★★★★

Nicholas Barclay mysteriously disappeared when he was about thirteen years old. Almost four years later, he reappears in Europe where he claims he was forced to partake in an underground prostitution ring. But there is one problem: the man who surfaces is not Nicholas Barclay. His real name is Frédéric Fortin, a twenty-five-year-old with hundreds of false identities. Based on the book by Christophe d’Antonio and directed by Jean-Paul Salomé, “The Chameleon” might have been a compelling story about loss if the script actually makes a semblance of sense.

Jennifer Johnson (Famke Janssen), an FBI agent, is in charge of the case. She has a strong suspicion that Nicholas is not who he claims. We watch her approach Nicholas’ family members and ask questions. The mother (Ellen Barkin) seems apathetic, the sister (Emilie de Ravin) welcomes the supposed sixteen-year-old with open arms, while the half-brother (Nick Stahl) is angry. Because of the weak and one-dimensional script, Agent Johnson comes off as highly incompetent. Instead of pushing the difficult and urgent questions in order to get to the truth, she sounds like a bad psychologist who only pretends to care about the case in question.

There is only one scene that grabbed my interest. That is, when Agent Johnson divulges to her superior (Tory Kitties) why she feels the need to take on the case even if pretty much everyone else is convinced that the man who returned is the same boy who disappeared. Because of the shame she feels at that moment in confession, she cannot–or will not allow to–find herself to establish eye contact. The scene manages to exhibit real emotions which is what the entire picture needs, at the very least, if we are to buy into its premise of stolen identity and theme of redemption.

There is an implication that the real Nicholas has been murdered in his home town, but the material does not have much to go on. I felt it blindly and furiously attempting to grab at any explanation. Nicholas’ family is dysfunctional, drugs and neglect being their solace when the situation gets tough, but the film fails to do anything interesting except judge them. I had the impression that the filmmakers wants us to think that the family members are stupid and a bunch of criminals because they are of low socioeconomic status. It was frustrating and disheartening to watch.

“The Chameleon” should have strived to be more sensitive because all of the facts of the actual case are not available. Instead of allowing its audience to judge for themselves what might have happened to the boy, it insidiously pushes us to think that his family has murdered him. Perhaps they did, perhaps they didn’t. The film’s focus should have been in the tragedy: a man posing as someone else because he wants to feel loved (or so he claims) and, more importantly, an unsuspecting family tricked into thinking that they have been given a second chance.

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