Catch Me If You Can


Directed by: Steven Spielberg
Written by:Jeff Nathanson
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hanks, Christopher Walken, Martin Sheen, Nathalie Baye
Released: January 9, 2003
Grade: B+

When adapting a biography onto the big screen, it’s easy to over-elaborate and turn an ordinary story into something (unbelievably) extraordinary.  Catch Me If You Can doesn’t fall victim to this Hollywood trick because, well, the story really is extraordinary.

Between the age of 16 and 21, Frank W. Abagnale Jr (played in the film by DiCaprio) lived a rather incredible fantasy.  Back in the technology-lacking 1960s, banks were ripe to be taken advantage of and Frank did just that.  He tried to cash fraudulent cheques but bank staff saw right through him – he was just a kid after all.  Not easily deterred, Frank learned that appearances can be everything.  Through a cunning con, he got his hands on a pilot’s uniform and from here on in, the banks didn’t blink an eyelid.  As if a pilot would ever cash dodgy cheques?

Continuing his pilot charade, Frank learned he could get free air travel.  Soon he was flying all over the country cashing cheques and by the time the banks learned of their error, he was long gone.  This wasn’t the only scam Frank ingeniously came up with.  He posed as a lecturer at a university for a summer semester, a doctor in a children’s hospital for almost a year, and even a lawyer for a short period after passing the bar exam.

Frank’s light-hearted adventures weren’t quite as funny down at the FBI.  Led by Carl Hanratty, a huge search had begun to identify and arrest Frank Abagnale Jr and it would eventually extend overseas.  In all, Abagnale cashed $2.5m worth of fraudulent cheques in a total of 26 different countries.  A remarkable con for a 21-year-old.

The film marks the return of the real Leonardo DiCaprio to the big screen.  As the defining actor of his generation, it’s awesome to see Leo in a role requiring his full use of his repertoire.  A beefier Tom Hanks brings surprising depth to an otherwise standard supporting role as Hanratty.  His character features very little in Abagnale’s autobiography but the part was expanded in the screenplay to strengthen the resolve of the FBI’s pursuit.  At times, I felt the Hanratty character was better developed than Abagnale’s which is a tribute to Hanks and perhaps a detriment to the screenwriter.  Hanratty’s “knock knock” joke is just one numerous scene stealers.

It was a very quick shoot for Steven Spielberg who managed to complete the film in only a few months.  It’s reflected in the film’s brisk pace and set up by a wonderful opening credit sequence backed by another on-the-mark score from composer John Williams.  After a wonderful introduction to our cast, the film suffers in the final hour by becoming more of a fact-telling exercise than a motion picture.  Frank’s motives seem lost and his final misadventures are sandwiched together and to those who haven’t read the book, might seem hard to believe given the lack of time spent explaining them.  Following 135 minutes of fun, the final 15 changes path by trying to spoon feed us a moralistic conclusion that wraps everything up into a nice little package.  It’s a complete waste.

Catch Me If You Can is the first major release of the calendar year in Australia and sure to be an overwhelming crowd pleaser.  I enjoyed the film but the sexy trailer, the lure of Spielberg-DiCaprio-Hanks, and the novel itself had me hoping for something a little better.