The true story of an ingenious deception
Directed by: Steven Spielberg
Starring : Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hanks
Genre : Drama, Biography, Crime
Runtime : 141 minutes
WI's rating : 8.1
Based on a book by Abagnale and Stan Redding, Catch Me If You Can is breezy entertainment served up with big bucks written all over it. Big name stars, popular director, sympathetic criminals. It asks to be taken at face value and does not aspire to any great heights or depths -- there are no intimate revelations of a man's soul. Told in extended flashbacks, the film describes Abignale's exploits as he pretended to be a schoolteacher, airline pilot, doctor, and lawyer, and, in the process, cashed more than $2.5 million in fraudulent checks. His feats were ostensibly in reaction to the impending divorce of his parents, but while the real Frank Abagnale has said that he did it mostly for money, power, and women, Spielberg's Frank is just an innocent child trying to put his family back together.
After the game show, the scene flashes to Frank being escorted to an American prison by FBI agent Carl Hanratty, played by Tom Hanks, who has to force a self-conscious Boston accent throughout the film. Flashing back again to 1963 in New Rochelle, N.Y., where Frank's father, Frank Abagnale, Sr., played by Christopher Walken in one of his better performances, finds himself in trouble with the IRS (we never find out the substance of this trouble). In reaction to his father's woes, Frank Jr. shows his mettle early on, impersonating a substitute teacher at his new school with rare authority (In one particular scene,Frank Abagnale, Jr. is at a public school dressed in his old private uniform outfit and fools a classroom in believing that he is a teacher and not just some puny student.). At first, dad shows a fatherly admiration and concern, but that changes later. When his parents go through a divorce, Junior runs away from home, taking with him only the checkbook his father gave him on an account containing $25. He learns pretty fast that a bounced personal check will not help much, but a fake company check from Pan Am Airlines will do wonders. Now all he needs is a new pilot's uniform and he's got money to spend and girls chasing him by the bucket full.
Frank moves on from one impersonation to another. He eventually turns minor check fraud into an entire lifestyle of false identities and counterfeit checks and ends up on the FBI's ten most wanted list. It's a lot of fun watching the FBI dufuses giving chase. They look right, but never seem to know what they're doing, and Hanratty falls for Abagnale's cons on more than one occasion. The well-meaning but bumbling Hanratty is always hot on his trail, closing in but never making the kill. Catch Me if You Can has a somewhat surreal look, with a feeling of heightened reality and brightened colors. Underneath the veneer, however, is a view of the 60s as unreal as is Far From Heaven's view of the 50s. The movie wants us to know that "in those days" a scam artist could get away with everything because we were so naïve and so trusting, and a smart scammer could take advantage of the way banks and businesses were willing to cash checks for anyone who looked respectable.
Of course we are way more grown up now. Now fraud and deception is only carried out at the highest levels, beyond the light-hearted cameras of Mr. Spielberg. Abagnale is the perfect American entrepreneur, inventing a whole new species of criminality for the rest of us to admire. He is the movie version of everyman, a con artist in a society uncertain of its values. We admire people like him because he stands outside the system and, like the Mafiosos we pay homage to in our popular culture, has turned criminality into an art form and added a little charm. There is little difference between him and the FBI agents who use illegal methods to spy on civilians, corporation executives that make millions on questionable stock options, political leaders who try to convince us of the necessity of war, or ballplayers who use steroids to bolster their mediocre abilities. The only difference between them and Frank Abagnale is that their stories have no sex appeal and would be of limited interest to Steven Spielberg.
The most intriguing and unique relationship in the film though has to go to Leo and his father Frank Abagnale Sr. played by the eternally mesmerising Christopher Walken. Walken's character is a man who is very proud and when he is in economic ruin he tries to fool everyone into thinking he's the successful man, however the only person he is fooling is himself. He convinces himself totally that lying makes everything better, and this is probably where Frank is inspired to run away from everything and lie his way around the world. It certainly is the case when Leo asks Walken to tell him to stop running, and instead encouraging him to stop, Walken says "You cant stop" and then carries on the web of lies his son has spun by asking " Where are you going tonight? Somewhere exotic?" referring to Leo's stunt as a pilot. Walken was deservedly Oscar-nominated for Best Supporting Actor for his performance which is really quite fascinating.
The most memorable and poignant scene of the film is where Leo learns from Hanks that his father ( Walken) died by slipping on stairs. This is where Leo's talent is really shown, as the pain and anguish fill his eyes in a mixture of disbelief, anger, helplessness, plus feeling physically sick. He slams the chair in front of him, his eyes swollen in tears. But it's just his moans, eyes or facial expression that makes us feel his huge loss, it is his body. Leo's body moves in the strangest ways, almost like he is consumed with grief and reaching out in despair, all in all making it quite hard to watch.
Abagnale, confidently interpreted by DiCaprio, is, on the surface, the epitome of cool, yet underneath he is just as hollow as the society that elevates individuals without integrity into folk heroes. Just like our corporate executives, our advertising promoters, and some political leaders, Abagnale demonstrates the sharpness of a quick-change artist who snuggles his way into our confidence, exhibiting smooth-talking sincerity while camouflaging his lies and deceptions. Unwittingly, Catch Me If You Can has shown us the true culprit.
-During the scene where Frank Abagnale Jr. gets his suit tailored to resemble James Bond, he refers to himself as Mr. Fleming. This is in reference to Ian Fleming, the original author of the James Bond books.