Laughter punctuates the path of the imposter.

CATCH ME IF YOU CAN

An Illusion movie review by Joan Ellis

       


            The promotional hype for “Catch Me If You Can” led us to expect a comedy, a duel between an accomplished imposter (Leonardo DiCaprio, as Frank Abagnale) and a fair to middling FBI agent (Tom Hanks, as Carl Hanratty).  But the first few scenes tell us that our laughter – and there is much of that – will be tinged with sadness.  The charming caper we anticipated becomes deeply poignant as we see why Frank Abagnale undertook his life of crime.   

Frank Sr. and Jr. have such a complete, if misshapen connection as father and son that the fun ahead can never quite lift off from the sadness they create.  Frank, at seventeen, adores his father (Christopher Walken) and mother (Nathalie Baye).  They are a team of three in a small life based on the father’s unsuccessful tax fraud schemes.  In final failure, house and possessions are taken from the family. Weakened, they try to start over in the humiliation that Frank Sr. pretends is a new beginning. 

It is at this moment that we realize Frank Jr. will spend his life trying to retrieve for his parents what they have lost.  Material things, surely; but this young man wants no less for them than the music they danced to at the beginning of their marriage.  The masquerade he undertakes is dedicated to them.

 Still, there is great fun to be had.  Where Frank Sr. fiddled around with petty fraud, Frank Jr. goes right for the big kahuna.  Refining a sophisticated forgery scheme, he amasses suitcases full of cash in the guise of a doctor, a teacher, and an assistant prosecutor.  Above all, he becomes a suave pilot of the ‘60s during the last moments before glamour and pretension drained away from air travel. 

At the peak of Frank’s revenge, he begs his father to ask him to stop, but the father, still dreaming, cannot.  The tone of wounded family persists throughout the hi-jinks.  As the lonely, dedicated FBI man, Tom Hanks comes through, as he always does, by building his character as he goes.  His fumbling, honorable agent is terrific counterpoint to Frank, who can’t open his mouth without telling a lie.  In a comic spoof of the FBI, the stolid Hanratty leads the pursuit with packs of agents clad in fedoras, black suits, white shirts, and grave expressions. 

Laughter punctuates the path of the imposter, particularly in Frank’s first outing as a teacher who takes control of an unruly class of students.  He learns quickly that a uniform and credentials, even fake ones, impress everyone, but he is new to the game, always on the edge of being caught.  We’re rooting for him. 

Tom Hanks, Chistopher Walken, Leonardo DiCaprio (fulfilling his early promise), director Steven Spielberg, and composer John Williams all play from the poignancy of Frank Abagnale’s true story.   Because of this, the movie may not be just what you expected from the hype; it may be more. 


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