DVD review by Alan Green
December 26, 2006
Leonardo DiCaprio portrays Frank Abagnale Jr., who is known as one of the best con men in history. He is pursued by FBI agent Carl Hanratty (Tom Hanks). While Hanratty is fictional, Abagnale is not, and some background may help. This is from Frank Abagnale's website:
His rare blend of knowledge and expertise began as a teenager. More than forty years ago he was known as one of the world's most famous confidence men as depicted in his best-selling book, "Catch Me If You Can." He cashed $2.5 million in fraudulent checks in every state and 26 foreign countries over a five-year period. Between the ages of 16 and 21, he successfully posed as an airline pilot, an attorney, a college professor and a pediatrician. Apprehended by the French police when he was 21 years old, he served time in the French, Swedish and U. S. prison systems. After five years he was released on the condition that he would help the federal government, without remuneration, by teaching and assisting federal law enforcement agencies.
What teenager has the talent to do this? And, if he has the talent to accomplish this, why does he? While “Catch Me If You Can” is breezy entertainment, it's also a subtle exploration of the need for meaningful relationships and the lengths to which people will go to fulfill this need. Even the title, “Catch Me If You Can” -- suggesting the tease of someone who wishes to be pursued -- hints at this.
So, why did Abagnale embark on this life of crime? As good stories always do, this one leaves plenty of room for interpretation. During the court proceeding of his parents' divorce, the judge asks Abagnale to choose who will live with, his mother or his father. Faced with a decision he could not make, Abagnale runs away. He pays his way by writing checks -- even after the account runs dry.
This is the point at which the average teenager would have gone home. But, Abagnale is far from average. He keeps going, becoming better and better until he elevates the simple act of writing bad checks to a self-taught, finely-honed craft. He did this, I believe, so that someone would chase him. That's quite a leap, I know, but the mechanics of this psychology make a lot of sense. Having been unable to choose which parent to live with Abagnale runs away for the same reason most kids do -- to have the parents pursue them, for attention, to incite concern, or to rekindle love if it is threatened. Once he decided he wasn't going home writing worthless checks would have been a practical solution for two problems: it was a way to get money to survive, and a way to have someone continue to pursue him -- even if that someone was the FBI.
Ridiculous? Could be. But, if anyone could have done such a thing for such a motive it would have been Abagnale. This is a guy who, as a teenager, pretended to be a Secret Service agent so convincingly he fooled FBI agents. Abagnale had just been caught by the FBI in a motel room full of fake checks and the equipment to produce them. He (Abagnale) convinced the FBI agents that he was part of a Secret Service team that had just arrested Abagnale and had taken him away. (This really happened). After consoling the FBI for their missed arrest, Abagnale left, taking check-printing equipment with him as evidence, and got away. That's gamesmanship, and Abagnale was just the kind of brilliant emotionally injured kid who could have written bad checks, and pretended to be an airline pilot, a doctor, and a college professor, just for sport, just to be pursued by Federal agents.
Did Frank want to be caught? Did the FBI become his surrogate family, replacing the one which had disintegrated? Why not? This is the kind of story you can't make up. Any screenwriter who did would be thrown out the office. This kind of thing only happens in real life, not in fiction. It's the kind of thing you can't believe unless it's true.
”Catch Me If You Can” is directed by Steven Spielberg and is probably his best movie. It doesn't have the flash of a marauding shark or digital dinosaurs, but has a more heartfelt exploration of the human condition. This is one of those rare DVDs that I watched in one sitting.
Spielberg's camera is, as usual, flawless. John Williams' bad-boy progressive improvisational 50s jazz score is pretty toe-tapping and sneaky, and makes a fine accompaniment for the material. The set design is a wonder, recreating the 50s and 60s so organically it doesn't feel like a put-on. This is a two-disc set, and the extras are worth a look.
Frank Abagnale's story makes a good case study. Was he successful because of talent? Or, was it naivety? Or, was it a disregard for the risk? It's open to interpretation. “Catch Me If You Can” is a lot of fun to watch, and Abagnale's story is as entertaining as it is thought-provoking.
This is also an inspirational story of turning bad experiences into good things. Today Frank Abagnale Jr. is a security consultant who makes a fine living advising banks and agencies about how to prevent fraud. In one of the DVD featurettes he says, “I've developed technology today that's found on just about every driver's license, card title, birth certificate, passport,currency, around the world.”
Not bad for a runaway teenager.
Directed by Steven Spielberg; written by Jeff Nathanson, based on the book by Frank W. Abagnale Jr. and Stan Redding; director of photography, Janusz Kaminski; edited by Michael Kahn; music by John Williams; production designer, Jeannine Oppewall; produced by Mr. Spielberg and Walter F. Parkes; released by DreamWorks Pictures. Running time: 140 minutes. This film is rated PG-13.
WITH: Leonardo DiCaprio (Frank Abagnale Jr.), Tom Hanks (Carl Hanratty), Christopher Walken (Frank Abagnale Sr.), Martin Sheen (Roger Strong), Nathalie Baye (Paula Abagnale), Amy Adams (Brenda Strong) and James Brolin (Jack Barnes).