Catch Me if You Can (2002)

“Brenda, I don't want to lie to you anymore. All right? I'm not a doctor. I never went to medical school. I'm not a lawyer, or a Harvard graduate, or a Lutheran. Brenda, I ran away from home a year and a half agowhen I was 1…“Brenda, I don't want to lie to you anymore. All right? I'm not a doctor. I never went to medical school. I'm not a lawyer, or a Harvard graduate, or a Lutheran. Brenda, I ran away from home a year and a half agowhen I was 1…

“Brenda, I don’t want to lie to you anymore. All right? I’m not a doctor. I never went to medical school. I’m not a lawyer, or a Harvard graduate, or a Lutheran. Brenda, I ran away from home a year and a half agowhen I was 16.“

Based on the book of the same name, Catch Me if You Can is the ultimate game of cat and mouse. The real life story of Frank Abagnale is fascinating – a young man who scheme’s his way to forge $2.5 million in bad checks while simultaneously posing as an airline pilot, a doctor and a lawyer. Abagnale is also a highly skilled forger who turned his craft into becoming one of the most famous con-artists of the 20th century. To think with all that he conned, Frank only served an astounding 5 years in prison before working for the FBI.

Abagnale (Leonardo DiCaprio) runs away when his parents Frank Abagnale Sr (Christopher Walken) and mother Paula (Nathalie Baye) divorce after a financial setback and some adultery. He survives by impersonating a Pan Am pilot and forging payroll checks. The more he does it, the better he gets and the bolder he becomes. Frank begins to test his prowess by faking his way into being a doctor and a Lawyer in the state of Louisiana. With no background experience he forges the documents while learning surface level terms by watching films and television. While he fakes his way into a hospital, he falls for Brenda Strong (Amy Adams) who is his in to becoming a lawyer.

All while Frank is pulling these cons, the FBI is aware of his scams and lead an investigation by Carl Hanratty (Tom Hanks). Hanratty is actually based on FBI agent Joseph Shea who captured Abagnale in France (where his mother is from) and convinced him to join the FBI. Even if you tame a wild animal, it’s still an animal and Frank makes one last ditch effort to impersonate a pilot where Carl pleads with him not too. 

“Two little mice fell in a bucket of cream. The first mouse quickly gave up and drowned. The second mouse, wouldn’t quit. He struggled so hard that eventually he churned that cream into butter and crawled out. Gentlemen, as of this moment, I am that second mouse.”

Family is a major theme in this film. Frank Jr. is the product of a broken home and that as is made evident has lasting effects on his psyche and state of mind. It’s how Carl is able to connect with Frank being a divorced man living in a different state than his daughter. Having that sympathy and understanding made it easier for Carl and his team to constantly be on Franks heels the entire time. Director Steven Spielberg is also a product of divorce and that only adds to the sympathy the audience feels for Frank. Even though he’s a crook and a con-artist we are still able to root for him – he’s an underdog trying to make his way in the world. 

The broken home aspect is interesting in the fact that Frank Jr is always seeking his father’s approval. It’s his subtle way of crying for help. Frank looked up to his father, that is his hero and when Frank Sr rejects him while in his pilot uniform, that was the lasting blow Franks self-worth and self-esteem. Christopher Walken brings that emotional depth to not only his character but to Leo’s too. Catch Me if You Can is fueled by two powerhouse performances by DiCaprio and Hanks. Leo comes off extremely charismatic and likeable and even though Hanks is the supposed antagonist, he’s not a cookie cutter gritty FBI agent that’s seen in almost every portrayal. He’s compassionate and only wants to help Frank.  

The script is lighter in tone than the actual events, but Spielberg made it a choice to stay accurate as far as the cons went. The overall lighter tone of the film portrays Frank as the protagonist. You want him to steal all this money, get all the girls and have the best life. This film doesn’t take itself too seriously even with all that is happening. 

“How did you do it, Frank? How did you cheat on the bar exam in Louisiana? I didn’t cheat. I studied for two weeks and I passed.”

The era of the 1960’s is expertly captured in this film. From the language and jargon to the set design and fashion, Spielberg transports us to the time period in a natural way.  For the longer length of this film the pacing is pretty quick. The moments the film is able to breathe are the scenes with Leo and Amy Adams. Even though Frank is conning Brenda to get to her father, their relationship is sweet. The one thing about Frank that helped him elude capture is the fact that he’s thinking one step ahead of the FBI. 

For being under eighteen and able to con and forge his way to millions of dollars, Frank is pretty intelligent. The script penned by Jeff Nathanson is tightly held together allowing for Spielberg to get the best out of the actors with what he was given. The Real Frank Abagnale didn’t want any input into the script or anything involving the film when he sold the rights of his autobiography in 1980. That proves how smart Frank is, he understood that this is a movie where things would be fabricated to tell a better story. 

Overall, Catch Me if You Can is an enjoyable biopic that has a lighter tone despite the actions of the main character. Leonardo has a standout performance and the themes of family and broken homes are outstanding serving as the heart and soul of this film. Frank’s story is pretty compelling otherwise, we wouldn’t have a movie. If I were to rate Catch Me if You Can, I’d rate it a 4.5 out of 5. 

So, tell me guys, have you seen Catch Me if You Can and if so, what do you think about it? Do you agree or disagree with me? Comment below or send me an email and let me know what you think. 

Catch Me if You Can is directed by Stephen Spielberg is Rated PG-13 and has a 96% on Rotten Tomatoes. Catch Me if You Can was released on December 25th, 2002 and has a runtime of 2 hours and 21 minutes. Catch Me if You Can can be bought by online retailers such as iTunes, Google, Amazon and Vudu.

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*I do not own these photos used in this article; all rights reserved to the copyright holder*


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