Catch Me If You Can

Steven Spielberg’s latest offering once again stars Tom Hanks and unlike their last collaboration, there isn’t even a shot fired – no Normandy landings, no fighting the Germans in fact no one killed at all. Based on the true story of Frank Abagnale Jr; the youngest person ever on the FBI’s most wanted list, who started on his criminal lifestyle at the tender age of 16. Frank Abagnale Jr (Leonardo DiCaprio) father, Frank Abagnale Sr (Christopher Walken) is in trouble with the IRS and in danger of losing his business, home and rich lifestyle. 

Proving that the apple never falls far from the tree, Abagnale Jr has always been a bit of rogue too, for example on the day he is supposed to start his new school, he just walked into the classroom and assumed the role of a substitute teacher and lasts a week before getting caught (he even had a parent-teacher evening and was in the process of organising a field trip to France). His father was always amused by his son’s antics, which remind him of his own exploits, while his mother is not impressed in the slightest.

One day Abagnale Jr’s world falls apart as his parents decide to divorce and unable to decide which one of them he wants to live, he runs off. After a few days realisation hits Frank; he needs money if he is going to be able to stay on the run. Starting small, Frank tries unsuccessfully to cash cheques for $5. One day he spies an aircraft pilot and is amazed at the level of respect paid to them (or more important – to the uniform). So he manages to get hold of a uniform and passes himself off as a pilot. Not only does this enable him to travel the world for free, but it gives him instant credibility and cheque cashing privileges at every bank that he visits. Frank soon has a mini production line in forged cheques (using transfers of logos lifted from model airplanes for more authenticity).

Jumping from identity to identity and cashing fraudulent cheques wherever he goes, Frank is always looking for what he misses the most, his family. He tries, through his scamming, to buy back his family, naively believing that if he gave his father enough money then his parents would get back together.

With his conning netting him a small fortune ($1.3 Million to be exact) the FBI assign a team to catch him led by Carl Hanratty (Tom Hanks). Carl is determined to stop the young forger and is an expert in ‘paper-hangers’ – cheque writers and counterfeiters. Thus a game of cat and mouse begins between these two men, with the mouse always one step ahead.

Frank, now very accustomed to his lifestyle as a jet set pilot, enjoys not only the money he steals, but realises that with money comes a certain level of respect and allows him many favours from young ladies impressed by his fancy suits and fast cars. Not without ample charm and wit he manages to keep moving one step ahead of the FBI.When he discovers that the FBI’s net is tightening around him he decides that medicine is the next step, so he assumes the role of a resident doctor with some forged qualifications.

With Carl always on his heels, Frank makes it to Louisiana, where he then assumes the identity of a lawyer and begins practising law. The problem is that Carl is always one step behind him, relentless and determined. With a total of $4 million scammed by Frank, he cannot stop and Carl will not stop as the pursuer and the pursued form a growing symbiotic relationship. As with every race there must be a winner, the question is will it be the mouse or the cat?

Catch Me If You Can is a very enjoyable film that oozes charm from not only the actors, but also from the director. Set in the early 60’s, cheque crimes were a relative new fraud and Frank Abagnale Jr took full advantage of the technology and processes of the time. Played with great charm by Leonardo DiCaprio, the character is hard not to like. Whether the real Frank Abagnale Jr was too young or naive to think that he would ever be caught is neither here or there; for him he was a big kid playing a game until it was too late for him to stop, which DiCaprio brings to the screen well. He also brings a lot of sympathy to the role where the two only honest relationships in his life are with his father and an FBI agent who is chasing him.

Tom Hanks is dependable as every as the relentless pursuer and has genuine chemistry with his prey. Ironically then the only one who really appreciates Abagnale’s accomplishments is the man who is trying to catch him. A performance that eclipses both is by Christopher Walken, who takes a step back from his usual psychotic characters and provides much of the heart and soul of the movie. His character might have been a loser but he had charisma by the bucket load and even though he knows that his son is a criminal he admires him nevertheless.

There are some excellent scenes especially between Carl and Frank. Both these characters know each other very well after a while as they are much alike. Both have an edge of loneliness, determination, dedication and an air of desperation about them, which both actors put across well.

Steven Spielberg manages to bring to life an excellent film, with some genuinely comedic moments and even though it’s a long film at 2 hours and 20 minutes, it seems a lot shorter. It’s a fun movie that relies on the performances rather then anything else and pulls it off. With spot on sets and costumes from the 60’s, the audience really does become submerged into the chase.

Score 8/10