Catch Me If You Can

Not the book, not the musical: I’m talking about the 2002 Steven Spielberg movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio along with Christopher Walken, Tom Hanks, Amy Adams, Martin Sheen, and others that I haven’t heard of but you have.

As you probably know, this is a supposedly true story about an astonishingly successful con man who starts his “professional” life as a teenager pretending to be a substitute teacher and moves on to convince others that he is a lawyer, a doctor, an airplane pilot, and other positions for which he has no particular training. He was also exceptionally skilled as a counterfeiter and all-around forger, thus enabling his other activities. The entertainment value—and it is indeed very entertaining—comes from the tension between admiring what the protagonist does, illegal though it is, and expecting him to get caught sooner rather than later. In fact, the ending is revealed right at the beginning: it’s a thriller, not a mystery.

As I said, this is supposedly based on a true story—but, from what I’ve read, it seems clear that the narrative contains more fiction than truth. That’s okay; it’s only a story, after all. Also, after watching the movie, I checked out some reviews/articles. Most of them were routine, being just what one might expect. But two of them offered a perspective I hadn’t expected. Note that Frank is the con man and Hanratty is the FBI agent pursuing him:

  • Movie Guide, which is apparently a religiously oriented right-wing site, gives the game away in their “acceptability ratings,” where the highest rating (4) is “Biblical, usually Christian, worldview, with no questionable elements whatsoever.” Catch Me doesn’t rate a 4, or even a 3, or a 2, or a 1, or a 0, or a -1; no, it’s a –2, defined as “Extreme caution for older teenagers and adults.”

    “Why?” you may wonder, especially since their review itself is mostly positive. It turns out to be the same as the reaction of right-wing evangelicals to Herschel Walker, whose behavior might be expected to turn them off and yet they still support him. In the case of this movie, the unnamed reviewer says “the soft ending to the movie seems to condone Frank’s adolescent behavior. The real Frank Abagnale, Jr. repented of his crimes and feels ashamed for what he did, something the movie fails to depict. The movie does, however, show Frank making restitution for his crimes by helping the authorities capture other forgers, but there is some foul language and sexual content. Pagan ‘anything goes’ adolescent worldview mitigated by a Christmas service, a lead character exhibiting selflessness and man doing some moral restitution for criminal activity; eight obscenities and four profanities; man dying in isolation cell, police point gun at man’s head, police rough up young man, doctor gets sick after seeing boy’s injured leg, and daring escapes; scene of depicted fornication, scenes of implied fornicated, woman climbs on fake doctor sitting on chair, sexual talk, prostitution, abortion discussed as having ruined a woman’s life, implied adultery, mother runs away from family and marries father’s best friend; upper female side nudity; alcohol use; smoking and reference to drugs; and, tax evasion, check kiting, forgery, deception, impersonation, fraud, and misrepresentation.” Perhaps this tells us more about the reviewer than about the movie being reviewed.
  • Spirituality and Practice is much more straightforward about its point of view, though it is also religious as the site’s title suggests. A review by Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat—yay, a byline!—is worth reading its entirety, but here is a brief excerpt: “In one set of intercut scenes, we see Frank getting ready for an evening with a high-class hooker while Hanratty is sitting in a laundromat looking forlorn. Yet Frank is the one who starts a tradition by calling his enemy every Christmas. Both of them are lonely and taken with their cat-and-mouse relationship. Both of them have experienced the disorientation of a broken family. Hanratty is divorced, and Frank is still trying to prove himself to his father by getting back all that was lost years ago: their social status, home, possessions, and suburban togetherness. In the end, Hanratty turns out to be Frank’s friend by not only saving his life when the police close in but by then coming up with an idea that will open up wild new possibilities for the gifted con man.”

Categories: Movies & (occasionally) TV