#233 – Catch Me If You Can (2002)

With 837,404 votes, Catch Me If You Can has a vote of 8.1 from IMDb’s userbase.

Barely 21 yet, Frank is a skilled forger who has passed as a doctor, lawyer and pilot. FBI agent Carl becomes obsessed with tracking down the con man, who only revels in the pursuit.

Based on a true story, Catch Me If You Can is another of Leonardo Di Caprio’s success stories, nipping ahead of Shutter Island on the Top 250 list. Following the young adulthood of Frank Abegnale Jr., we watch how he develops into a master conman and cheque forger and evades the dogged pursuit of Carl Handratty, FBI (Tom Hanks). Both actors play off each other fantastically, and with Christopher Walken, Amy Adams and to a lesser extent Nathalie Baye and Martin Sheen rounding out the list of main characters you cannot fault the casting. Even if we had to believe that Leo was playing a 17-year-old at the age of 28.

Look at how young he looks! He’s bloody 28 here!

Something I find interesting about the construction of this film is how we know right from the off that Frank does, in the end, find himself captured by the FBI – his life of crime seems to be at an end. In that way, the majority of the movie is a “look how I ended up in this situation” story and if it weren’t based on a true story it would be truly unbelievable, with the methodical way Frank Abegnale Jr. researches his scams and adapts his conman personality to each new situation. It’s impressive to watch and you cannot help but wonder how close to real life this depiction is.

Motivated by the divorce of his parents, Frank runs away from home and must rely on the tips and tricks he picked up from his fraudster father (Cristopher Walken) to survive. When he learns how to use these tricks to make money and seduce attractive women, he falls into the life quite easily as any impulsive 17-year-old would. It doesn’t take long for his antics to be picked up on by the FBI and one of the most notable moments of the movie is the initial meeting between Frank and Carl in the former’s motel room – the scene carries a lot of tension and comedy in equal parts as Frank just about gets away with it.

Probably the most iconic scene of the movie.

And the comedy is, I think, an underrated part of this film. So many moments stick out to me that bring an overall air of levity to what could have been quite a thriller: Frank’s attempt at being an assistant prosecutor, his turn as a substitute teacher, his reaction to actually having to be a doctor for a night are all great moments. This side of the movie is also held up by the fantastically bright soundtrack composed by John Williams. His theme for this movie is so lovely on the ear, and the opening credits are a rare example of credits that are wonderful to watch as a result.

Conversely, there are some very serious themes that the film tries to tackle. Frank is quite clearly traumatised by the idea of his perfect life breaking up as a result of his parents’ divorce. He is basically still a child and thrusts himself into a dangerous world and while he manages to survive, he cannot escape his choices. His childishness is reinforced by his blind belief that he can bring his parents back together despite his mother very obviously moving on. Add to this his complete reluctance to recognise the financial and legal troubles of his father and you can easily find that Frank is mostly quite a tragic character whose naivete is his downfall.

The lowest point in my mind is the heartwrenching phone call he makes to Carl Handratty on the second Christmas, where he pleads to be left alone now that he isn’t lonely any more – the chase is no longer fun for him and he just wants to live a life with this new family he’s found (and who wouldn’t want to live a life with Amy Adams?). Unfortunately for Frank, he has made far too many mistakes and it leads to his demise with a cavalcade of crushing news. First, the death of his father; second, the total happiness of his mother without him; and third, the realisation that he has no escape route this time and prison is an inevitability.

DiCaprio’s physical acting in the film really accentuates the character’s naivete, youth, and discomfort when not playing one of his alter egos.

The movie ends on a lighter note, with Frank living in the custody of the FBI instead of behind bars. It’s clear that he eventually comes to accept this life and has built a bond with the man who tracked him halfway around the world, so it’s not all bad.

There is not much I can fault in this movie. It’s a very enjoyable watch and Leo is ever so cute in it. There are not many lulls in the movie, with the only outlier a quite off-kilter and cringeworthy scene featuring a model-slash-prostitute played by Jennifer Garner which leaves a weird taste in the mouth. Apart from that little hiccup, it’s probably up there in the list of movies I’d consider my favourites.

Verdict: Watch it. It isn’t like many other movies and is a feel-good and thoughtful romp.

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