Catch Me If You Can

Catch Me if You Can. Paramount Pictures 2003.

Before watching the movie:

I have an impression this is kind of comedic, but I’m not sure if that’s accurate. Or if it came from trailers that may or may not have been pitching it in a different direction to get more ticket sales. What I’m looking at now says drama, but I’m guessing it’s a bit of a modern caper with a lot of fun thrown into a high-stakes drama.

All I know for sure is that it’s based on the memoirs of a real con man, and it’s about the con man eluding capture from a pursuing detective, and I think there’s a lot of bluffs that get a little over the top, but there hasn’t been much talk about this movie since it came out, so I’m not sure of much of anything except the cast.

After watching the movie:

Frank Abagnale Jr’s father is a respected member of the New Rochelle community, owner-operator of his own store, and still madly in love with his French wife Paula. Due to problems with Frank Sr’s accountant leading to persecution by the IRS, the Abagnales have to leave their lovely house and move into a cheap apartment. Frank Jr. catches his mother having an affair with his father’s friend from the rotary club, and soon Paula sues for divorce. Asked by the lawyers to decide which of his parents he wants to live with, he instead runs away. No one takes him seriously as a 16-year old kid, so after getting a fake interview with a Pan Am executive to case the company, he starts impersonating a pilot and forging Pan Am checks with official logos soaked off of model planes as well as traveling for free. Quickly defrauding millions of dollars, his exploits attract the attention of the FBI, and agent Carl Hanratty is assigned to the case. Hanratty’s team eventually tracks Frank to a hotel, but Frank convinces Hanratty that he’s actually the Secret Service agent that just made the collar on the perpetrator himself, which works just long enough to get away, though he later calls Hanratty on Christmas to apologize, just trying to reach out from his very lonely life in the wind. Soon, Frank arrives at a hospital as “Frank Conners” and applies for a job with a forged degree, getting himself a position supervising the overnight pediatric ward and beginning to date a receptionist named Brenda, soon deciding to marry her. As Brenda’s father is a lawyer, Frank tells him that after a stint as a pediatrician, he’s now interested in returning to his former law career and would like some help in passing the bar and getting started practicing law in Louisiana. Frank makes an earnest attempt to go as straight as he can in the fake identity he’s created, and calls Hanratty again to say that he’s done and he doesn’t want to run anymore, but Hanratty has a job to do.

The opening titles and musical theme centering on a jazzy, tense woodwind solo made me hope that this was going to be a throwback to a Hitchcock-style or Kubrick-style movie, but the movie itself is in a very modern period drama style. The tone stays pretty tense and subdued even in the more playful or audacious moments, and there are a lot of moments to illustrate the emotional places the characters are in at a given time.

This isn’t as much of a chase or caper as I was expecting, and I kind of feel like the relationship between Frank and Hanratty is not as much of a hunter/prey or mutual respect antagonists type as I thought I was going to get. They grow into a fondness for each other, but it seems kind of underplayed. I think maybe I wanted to see more of Hanratty’s side to really feel like they were equals. They only get to interact with all cards on the table a couple of times until Frank’s arrest, and it feels like what relationship is there didn’t get enough time to build up. It may be limited by the true history, but that didn’t stop them from adding scenes where Frank visits his father that apparently never happened.

I think I was sold a very different movie, but I thoroughly enjoyed what I got here. It’s a bit of a thrill watching Frank squeeze out of tough situations and dance around the truth, and to see his ingenuity and cleverness in constructing his lies. It’s not a game of chase, it’s a game of hide and seek, with some occasional running when the seeker gets too close. It’s possible it made Frank Abagnale look too sympathetic, since even though he wasn’t involved in making it, it’s based on his autobiography that doesn’t seem to match with the facts. However, if his victims were just banks and other big corporations, I can’t really care too much.


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