When most kids run away from home, they don’t last on their own for very long. My sister didn’t make it past the front walk. Those that venture further usually find that one real world problem blocks them: money. Frank Abagnale Jr., a real life teenage conman in the 1960s, figured this out and forged millions in checks. He was young, with a suitcase full of cash, confidently posing as a pilot, doctor and lawyer. For a while, it seems like the world is his for the taking, but his fraudulent actions were always raising suspicion and he could never be more than a man on the run.
Before he runs, we see Frank and his parents in a happier time. There is real respect and admiration between Frank Sr.(Christopher Walken) and Jr. (Leonardo DiCaprio). When Frank Sr. is audited severely, the family loses their house and Frank Jr. witnesses his parents’ marriage fall apart. Rather than choose which parent to live with, he runs away, armed with a checking account his father gave him, with only $25 in the bank.
Steven Speilberg directs Catch Me If You Can, depicting Frank’s running years like one long caper. Throughout the film, we cheer on Frank as he suavely maneuvers through airports, hospitals, banks and hotels. To the innocent people around him, he fits in, raises no suspicion and seems like a very respectful young man. However, we see through to his motives, from the way he asks questions innocently to that old trick with the necklace he learned from his father. We see how smart he is and how much detail he puts into forging his documents too. He gets better at his processes as he goes, even hand making his own Harvard diploma.
Besides forging checks, Frank is not such a bad guy. We don’t see any signs of malice or ill intent further than stealing money in the classiest way and his abuse of power doesn’t extend further than free plane rides. And if you could get away with it, wouldn’t you buy an Aston Martin? Throughout all of his wrong doings, it seems that his motive is just to get his parents back together. He’s just a kid wanting to fix his family.
What makes this film exciting, is the chase. Nearly the whole time, FBI agent Carl Hanratty (Tom Hanks) is looking for Frank. The first time the two meet face to face, Frank tricks him into thinking he is a secret service agent, and just narrowly escapes. From then on, Carl makes it his personal mission to catch this kid. Though they’re apart, with Carl always just a step or two behind Frank, the two are always connected and develop an odd relationship throughout the film. From their annual Christmas Eve call, we can tell neither of them has any real friends or close family.
When it came to the Oscars, Catch Me If You Can only received two nominations. One was for Christopher Walken’s supporting role as Frank Jr.’s father. He’s a perfect catalyst for the son’s running and a role model in a way that Frank Sr. could not have imagined his teachings would serve. I believe it was the scene in the restaurant where Walken is so great at being on the edge of his emotions that brought him the nomination. The film’s other nomination was for original score, by John Williams.
Catch Me If You Can is one of Spielberg’s films teeters between fun and serious. At times it can feel like a comic caper or a whimsical story of a boy who ran away from home. Frank’s adventures as he runs makes us like him, cheer him on and have fun. The dark side and loneliness that comes with always running and eventually getting caught is not forgotten. Some of the best parts of the film are when we see his dad’s perspective on the Yankees in action. You can get away with a lot when you look so good and convincing, it distracts people like a perfect magic trick.
“It’s ’cause the other teams can’t stop staring at those damn pinstripes.”