Cyberpunk Review » Impostor

April 21, 2006


Movie Review By: SFAM

Year: 2002

Directed by: Gary Fleder

Written by: Philip K. Dick (story), Scott Rosenberg (Adaptation), Caroline Case et a. (screenplay)

IMDB Reference

Degree of Cyberpunk Visuals: Medium

Correlation to Cyberpunk Themes: Medium

Key Cast Members:

  • Spencer Olham: Gary Sinise
  • Hathaway: Vincent D’Onofrio
  • Maya Olham: Madeleine Stowe
  • Cale: Mekhi Phifer
  • Rating: 6 out of 10

    Impostor screen capture


    Overview: Impostor got bashed by critics for having bizarre cut always, too many slow motion scenes, and generally weird and herky-jerky cinematography decisions. Additionally, others criticize it due to originally being a 30-40 minute short that got extended into a full-length movie. While all true, I truly like both the story (basically the Fugitive, done in a near future setting) and the acting, especially by Gary Sinise and Madeleine Stowe. While the cinematography is definitely subpar in this Philip K. Dick story, the movie itself is still worth a watch.


    Impostor screen capture


    The Story: Impostor is set in the year 2079, a time when a race of aliens are attempting to invade the earth. To protect the population, humans now live in high-tech “bubbles” which seem to be able to keep out Alien weapon systems. Because of this, the aliens have resorted to creating DNA-based replicants, not unlike those in Battlestar Gallactica, by a process which apparently involves copying captured humans. These replicants are in actuality very powerful bombs, but have no self-awareness of being replicants – when their “trigger” is invoked (such as being in close proximity to their target), they explode.


    Impostor screen capture


    Sinise plays Spencer Olham, a weapons scientist who has been accused of being replaced by a replicant (called a cyborg in the movie). The security head (Vincent D’Onofrio) captures him and threatens to rip out his heart in order to prove that he’s not a human. Sinise escapes and then engages on a journey to prove his innocence. Olham determines that he can prove his innocence by equipment at the hospital where his wife (Madeleine Stowe) works, that compares a previous body scan with his current body. Unfortunately, he’s already gotten out of the city, and now needs to figure out how to get past security to return.


     Impostor screen capture


    How Do You Know You’re You? This, in essence is the question Impostor is asking when it’s not in chase-filler mode. Is Spencer Olham a human caught in a horrid mistake, or is he a cyborg comprised of human-like bio-matter that is in actuality a powerful bomb sent by aliens to infiltrate Earth’s defenses in order to kill human leadership? If you were a cyborg-replicant imbued with the memories of the original host, how could you figure it out? Imposter briefly mentions the notion that the cyborgs don’t have a soul, but this is never pursued. One wishes they had come up with some way of quantifying a soul. But in the end, we are left to answer this question ourselves.


    Impostor screen capture


    The Middle “Chase” scenes are Filler: Originally, Impostor was shot as a 30-40 minute movie short that was intended to be part of a larger collection. Apparently, Miramax liked the short enough (or cooled to the short collection idea) that they wanted it extended into a full length feature film. However, in doing so, they were left with a relatively tight beginning and tight end, and then a vast chasm of nothingness in the middle. By and large, the middle is filled with semi-pointless chase scenes that are sprinkled with people that aren’t germane to the central plot. Now we get a whole underground dystopia thing added to the mix, whereby it turns out that the nice hospital is ONLY for those who live in the bubble, while those in the outer area get little or no medicine and support. In its better moments, the middle part of the movie seems to want to emulate a “Fugitive” type feeling, but this doesn’t always work well. The DVD also includes the original movie short which is definitely worth a watch.


    Imposter screen capture


    The Visuals: Impostor’s vision of the future is terrific in some places and haphazard in others. The cityscape scenes look right out of blade runner, the bubble city coverings, torture look great, but the majority of Imposter involves treks through regular looking tunnels. The torture equipment and medial imagine equipment are both more than passable. Imposter is strongly dominated by blue tones, which pervade most every aspect, from the chase scenes to the interrogation scenes.


    Imposter screen capture


    The Acting: By far, the best aspect of Impostor is the acting.Gary Sinise in particular really sells his role well, but Madeleine Stowe and Vincent D’Onofrio also give high quality performances, and Mekhi Phifer is at least passable. With slightly worse performances, Imposter could have easily ended up in the cheesy “B” Movie bin. The effects are uneven enough (some looked great, others looked TV-ish) that solid acting was a must to keep this movie watchable.


    Imposter screen capture


    The Editing: Impostor is rightly criticized for crazy and continuous cut-shots. Rare is the shot that lasts more than 4 to 5 seconds before cutting to another view. The goal was to add to the tension of the chase scene, but the editors went overboard. Especially when combined with some strange shot angles, Imposter almost takes on an experimental vibe, as if they weren’t sure what would work, so they tried various different things.


    Imposter screen capture


    The Bottom Line: While this “Fugitive-like” movie has lots of interesting scenes, it’s the ending that I really like - definitely a cool twist. The acting is solid and the visuals are sometimes, but not always, pretty decent. There are lots of pointless tunnel-running that easily could have been cut by 15-20 minutes, and also, there are enough questions and plot holes that stop Imposter from being a great movie. Still, the question of determining humanity is an interesting one, and is well executed.


    ~See movies similar to this one~


    April 22, 2006

    ETM said:

    They really tried to make it work, and almost did, until the final act, which, for some reason, turned out really funny. I don’t know why, it suddenly felt totally B, and I laughed. Agreed on the acting, though.

    May 1, 2006

    Muad'Dib said:

    Yes, good acting. Since I first saw MIB I just love D’onofrio :D
    Um, one thing: Do you really spell that movie “Imposter”? Because my DVD (R1) is titles “ImpostOr”, as is the short story, and the movie poster.

    Love Dick’s story, by the way. One of his greatest, and the ending really caught me off guard. And that’s one thing the movie also achieved, because they added another twist to the end.
    I like it, it’s definitely one of the better Dick adaptations around. Still, I have to say I prefer the short version. As you say in your review, much of the middle was really unneccessary.

    SFAM said:

    Hi Muad’Dib, great catch. Thanks. I don’t know why I had the spelling wrong. :(

    May 2, 2006

    Sargent said:

    Impostor is a awesome film that can be overlooked if one does not pay mind to the fact the under the cloak of a real man Spencer seems to be working as a bomb the entire time. In the end we are posed with the fact that Spencer was involved with the aliens; this made for a great rewatch.

    SFAM said:

    Hi Sargent, even if you do know this, it’s almost like the new Battlestar Galactica, where the cylons don’t know they’re cylons until the right moment. It makes for interesting viewing, I agree.

    August 11, 2006

    A Cinephile’s Critiques » Impostor said (pingback):

    […] Directed by Gary Fleder, 2002 (Color, 9:5, Surround, 35`/100`) Starring Gary Sinise, Madeleine Stowe, and Vincent d’Onofrio If you’re going to watch “Impostor,” watch the 37-minute version. Not even heavy-handed film direction can strangle Philip K. Dick’s fascinating story idea in half an hour. To smother a story this grim, paranoid, and thought-provoking, you have to throw in an hour-long chase scene too. […]

    August 3, 2010

    olbertus said:

    Hmmm….I would love to know just how I go about finding the short version as I found the long version felt extended in a really cheap and poorly thought out way. I have found nothing so far about a shorter version ever being released anywhere in any format and as a fan of the original story and PKD in general I think it sounds like the definitive version and worth a look.

    July 12, 2011

    Vampyre Mike said:

    I wouldn’t classify this as Cyberpunk, more an alien film or something of that nature. I got so bored I had to fast forward to see the surprise ending, not a good film at all.

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