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Catch Me If You Can

Catch Me If You Can is based on a true story about a successful con artist who takes on various identities and nets millions of dollars in fraudulent checks--all before his 21st birthday.


Frank Abagnale Jr. (Leonardo DiCaprio) never aspires to become one of the youngest people ever to make the FBI's 10 Most Wanted List--it just kind of turns out that way. His adventures begin in 1967 when he runs away from home at 16, just as his parents are divorcing. He finds himself alone in the Big Apple, unsuccessfully trying to cash fake $20 checks. One day Frank notices how much respect is given to two airline pilots and he decides impersonating a Pan Am co-pilot might be just the ticket, so to speak. Thus begins his brilliant three-year run as a master of deception. After infiltrating Pan Am, he changes careers--he's a pediatrician, then a lawyer--all the while perfecting his forgery skills. Cashing fake checks all over the country, Abagnale amasses millions and quite literally becomes a kid in a candy store, buying sports cars and fancy suits, losing his virginity and pretending he is James Bond. Still, the fact remains Frank is just a kid. Even after all these adult experiences, his main objective is to get his father, Frank Sr. (Christopher Walken), a down-on-his-luck store owner hounded by the IRS, back together with his now-remarried mother (Nathalie Baye). Frank's nefarious activities eventually catch the authorities' attention, and Carl Hanratty (Tom Hanks), a no-nonsense FBI agent in charge of the bank fraud division, is soon hot on Frank's tail. But Frank doesn't mind. Part of him wants to get caught and he baits Hanratty to never give up the chase. Hanratty never does and finally brings his man to justice.


Catch Me's acting ensemble shines. Given the fact DiCaprio is in two high-profile movies this holiday season--this one and Gangs of New York--puts the actor back on the radar after a hiatus (perhaps he was licking his wounds after starring in the disastrous 2001 The Beach). Yet, if you were to match the performances, DiCaprio's stellar turn as Abagnale definitely stands out as the better of the two (the Golden Globes feel the same, recently giving DiCaprio a nod for best actor in a drama). He fits the part like a glove--all at once charismatic, childish, vulnerable and deadly intelligent. DiCaprio easily shows how Frank isn't necessarily a sociopath but more a needy kid looking for acceptance. Say what you will about DiCaprio's movie star qualities, he still has the acting chops to make it work. Walken, as Frank Sr., also gives one of the better performances of his career, playing a sad man who knows the apple doesn't fall from the tree but who is too proud to admit his mistakes--even to his son. Hanks is superb as well (is there anything this man can't do?), playing the by-the-book Hanratty completely devoid of emotion--but making us laugh anyway every time he comes on the screen. He doesn't mean to, of course, but to see Hanks play something so obviously straight somehow brings out the humor in the situation even more. Just don't ask Hanratty to tell you a joke. TV's Alias honey Jennifer Garner also makes a nice cameo as a prostitute--watch out, folks, she's heading for the big screen.


Based on the real-life memoirs of Frank W. Abagnale Jr., Catch Me If You Can is a fascinating study of a brilliant mind which isn't by nature criminal--just slightly misguided (ironically, the real Abagnale, now in his 50s, is a legitimate businessman who also acts as an consultant for the FBI's bank fraud division). Under the skillful hands of director Steven Spielberg, Catch Me has a great deal of fun going for a very '60s tongue-in-cheek Pink Panther feel, from the opening credits to the ease at which Frank goes about his merry way, conning everyone including himself. The motto of the film has to be ''never deny.'' Frank accepts everything and things just fall into his lap. Even when Frank tries to tell the truth to the father (played by Martin Sheen) of a woman he wants to marry, it works to his advantage. Yet, the meat of the film is Frank's inner turmoil at the breakup of his parents, of wanting his family back together again and of his need to come clean. Frank secretly wants to be disciplined, told what to do, and that's why Hanratty becomes so important, almost a fatherly figure, to him. The film probably plays about a half hour too long, especially in explaining what happens to Abagnale after he gets caught, but otherwise, it totally engages you.

Bottom Line

Fueled by a wonderful performance from Leonardo DiCaprio, Catch Me If You Can is a lighthearted yet heart-wrenching look at the making of a truly brilliant, if somewhat reluctant, con artist.