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IN SHORT: A-list actor plus A-list actor plus A-list director equals a great sit. No lie. [Rated PG-13 for some sexual content and brief language. 140 minutes]
A forger is, by definition, a liar. Frank W. Abignale, Jr. (Leonardo DiCaprio) pulls some whoppers in the course of Steven Spielberg's Catch Me If You Can, based on the exploits of the real Abignale who repudiates all that he pulled off as a teen and has spent many years as a consultant to the FBI and to banks major and minor. Abignale is the reason it is a helluva lot harder to forge a check than it was when he was sixteen, back in the late 1960s.
You read that right. Sixteen. Check forger. Here's three more words of note: Four Million Dollars. That's what the sum total of his thefts amounted to . . . and that doesn't begin to include the multiple job identities he assumed along the way. As laid out in the wide ranging adapted script by Jeff Nathanson, all the changes and scams come off so naturally, with such an improvisational air on the part of Dicaprio, that our audiences rooted for both the good guy and the bad guy. Yee hah!
Mom (Nathalie Baye) is a French war bride. Dad (Christopher Walken) is a stationer whose business is hitting the skids, thanks to IRS liens. Dad's a smooth talker, a talent demonstrated enough times that it's fairly obvious down the line that Frank Jr. is a quick study. With his old life gone along with his family homestead, Junior discovers a talent for impersonation on his first day at a new school. And when life goes totally sour, he is put in a position that no child should ever have to face. Mom and Daddy are divorcing -- decide with whom you wish to live. Junior runs away from home. In his pocket is the checkbook he'd received for his sixteenth birthday.
Thus begins the story of a boy who figures that the only way to reunite his parents is to make so much money that it would never be a problem again. When the checking account is exhausted of funds, the boy tries to pass checks. Fails. Then, noting the adulation lavished upon airline pilots in a local hotel, he manages to get hold of a Pan Am uniform. Soon, Frank learns the trick of scoring free plane rides all around the country. Frank's a smart kid. He learns how long it will take for a check to bounce. He grabs a flight to whatever city is "next" before the banks come hunting.
On his tail is FBI agent Carl Hanratty (Tom Hanks) who is as relentless as Inspector Girard and about as unlucky. Abignale gets away with what he gets away with because a) he doesn't think he'll be caught because b) he's met the perfect girl (Amy Adams) and has settled into a better career working for her dad (Martin Sheen) as an Assistant DA in Louisiana. Of course, when the pair met, he was a promising young doctor . . .
How did Abignale do it? He was six feet tall by sixteen and, in real life at least, was often mistaken for a young man in his mid twenties. Just the right age to be co-piloting jets for Pan Am, an airline now out of business though you can't blame that on Frank. With careers modelled on movies, popular teevee shows like Dr. Kildare and Perry Mason and sheer moxie -- we've got another word in mind but this is a family friendly site -- the FBI mobilizes a massive force of three to track this fiend down. Hanratty, unfortunately a composite character (else this whopper would've been a double...) works the case for close to three years, swapping annual Christmas greetings with the felon. Almost catching him before he knows it.
Those close calls will get closer and closer and all the more outrageous as the film proceeds. Some is fiction. The whopper at the end is true, though the actual facts of the escape have been tweaked just a little for the film.
We thank Messrs. Spielberg, DiCaprio and Hanks for ending our annual Christmas movie torture week on such a pleasant note. Catch Me If You Can, even with the killer running time listed above moves quickly from con to pursuit and back again. Would it have been possible to cut some running time? Maybe. We didn't notice any problems with "too many" episodes until we sat to see the film a second time. The rating below doesn't reflect the usual perfect ten that goes along with a double sit because the first time through, prepping for CrankyCritic® StarTalk with Steven Spielberg, Tom Hanks and Leonardo DiCaprio (click for any or all three!) we were too exhausted to get anything more than a good feeling out of the film. Second time through we had absorbed just enough of that first view to check the watch a time or two. We don't think you'll have any such problem first time out. After that, rent and watch your favorite bits.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Ten Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Catch Me If You Can, he would have paid . . .
Since we know we'll get the question in our e-mail, the answer is "Yes, he did. In real life it took him four tries." Once you see Catch Me If You Can, you'll know what we're referring to.
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