For my third movie pick in Hanspostcard’s Movie Event, I check off the “Crime” or “Film noir” category with a 2002 box office biggie that I only saw for the first time this past holiday season – Catch Me If You Can.
The names on the poster let you expect it was going to be fairly decent. It’s a Steven Spielberg film starring Leonardo Dicaprio and Tom Hanks (with the likes of Martin Sheen, Christopher Walken and the lovely Jennifer Garner having supporting roles.) I’m fairly indifferent to young Leo (though he did play the lead role very well in this) but like most of the world, I tend to love anything Hanks puts his hand to, and this was no exception.
It’s a cool visual retro trip and it’s a cop buddy story with a twist. That being that the cop’s buddy is the criminal he’s pursuing. Interesting, no? However, much like my previous two movie reviews in this project (Moneyball, Loving Vincent), the thing that made this one a standout to me is that its based on a real-life story. Truth is not only stranger than fiction, but to me, much more interesting usually. And how strange this story is. The next couple of paragraphs will contain spoilers revealing the plot, so skip over them if I was in fact not the very last person in the country to have seen the movie and you think you might like to still.
Catch Me If You Can is the story of one Frank Abagnale, Jr., a bright, ambitious and slightly devious NewYork teenager. Very bright and very ambitious. He sees his dad struggling to keep his business afloat and keep the taxman at bay, so to speak and young Jr. aspires to a ritzier, easier life than that. He also sees his dad using his charms on various women he encounters to get things done and young Frank decides that’s one bit of his family heirloom he can fully appreciate and use himself. So with …ahem… “moxy”…aplenty, he sets out to portray himself as a young pilot for the then hippest airline, Pan Am. He manages to scoop free flights to anywhere he wants after scoring himself a uniform with that Abagnale charm. Soon he figures out to forge Pan Am paycheques, and how to cash them without detection. Before long he’s made himself over two million bucks as an imaginary pilot and lived the playboy lifestyle of a suave young flyboy. Eventually he tires of that and meets a nice girl who happens to be an Atlanta nurse. Voila! He’s now a doctor at her hospital. Amazingly he manages to fool the other staff and not kill anybody by watching medical shows on TV for terminology and quickly figuring out what every good leader knows – how to delegate his work!
In turn he wants to marry, and again amazingly, her dad is taken in by him and gives him a job as a lawyer in the district attorney’s office. This time, he actually does the work and passes the bar. Needless to say, after awhile, Pan Am became aware of the fraud happening across the land and call in the FBI. In particular, an agent called Hanratty, played by Hanks. Hanratty even manages to corner Frank in an apartment one time…but the youngster cons his way out of it.
However, for all the money, cars and girls, the conman finds little peace. Eventually he has to flee to Europe to avoid the feds, where he begins a similar scheme. He gets lonely and, not having much contact with or much of a tie to his own dad, turns to the one friendly-ish father figure in his life – Hanratty. He periodically calls the lawman, at first to taunt him, but after awhile just to chat and share stories. In time Frank gets caught, does time in European jail before Hanratty gets him released to American custody. After an escape or two and recapture, he does some hard time with visits from… the guy who tracked him down.
Hanratty isn’t dumb either. He sees in the young lad an amazing intelligence and some sense of decency, so against the advise of his agency, he manages to have the con sprung from prison… to work for the FBI. He soon becomes their top guy for tracking down other forgers, who are usually far less skilful than he had been.
In real life, Abagnale said that he thought Spielberg was the only movie-maker worthy of telling the story. And while Spielberg added a few elements to make the crazy story even more Hollywood (for example, in the movie, he’s captured at his mom’s house after meeting his new half-sister. In real life, she never had more kids nor remarried after divorcing his dad, and he was caught on the run in Quebec… the Mounties always get their man!) , for the most part the unbelievable film was accurate. The reformed con still advises the FBI on fraud cases and has his own consulting agency to help businesses protect themselves from… the next Frank Abagnale.
The movie looks good, with an eye to detail for the visually impressive early-’60s fashion, furniture and cars. At the end, I loved it because it did two things not many films can do for me. First, it’s long (almost 2 and a half hours) but never drags. There’s never a point where I found myself looking at my watch thinking “how much longer does this go?” Second, the characters are well-fleshed out and it pulls off the truly rare feat of having me rooting simultaneously both for the criminal and the cop. So the resolution is quite satisfying. As is the film itself.
I’d give it 3.5 jumbo jets out of 5…but then Frank would probably come along and skilfully change that number to 4. And I wouldn’t care too much.