Catch Me If You Can is a 2002 Steven Spielberg film based on the life of the teenage con artist Frank Abagnale Jr. who managed to pass himself off as an airline pilot, a doctor and a lawyer while he was still too young to drink. It stars Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hanks and Christopher Walken. Based on a True Story, and the real Frank Abagnale Jr. was on hand as a consultant and was enthusiastic about its production.
This film provides examples of:
- Abusive Parents: Frank's parents are actually very supportive of their son, but his father engages in emotional abuse in one of his last scenes. Frank has been trying to stop his criminal lifestyle for a while now, but can't go through with it until his father tells him that it's alright to do so. Instead Frank Sr. refuses and tries to use his son as a weapon against the government out of spite, because they didn't support him when his business went under. This did not happen in real life.
- Actually Pretty Funny: Young Frank impersonates a substitute teacher for a week. He gets in trouble with the school once they find out; Frank's parents make a show of being angry at him but Frank Sr.'s face becomes a proud smirk once they leave the principal's office.
- Animated Credits Opening: and one that evokes the classic work from The Sixties of Saul Bass!
- Anti-Villain: Frank Abagnale Jr. becomes an elusive Con Man who lives a rich life by stealing millions of dollars from the government and the banks. He also came from a family that fell from grace and broke up, and started out with his schemes to support himself. He's never purposely malicious, more an irresponsible kid who should know better, tries to remain friendly with the officer pursuing him, and genuinely wants to stop his crimes by the halfway point but can't. He ends the movie being prematurely released from prison and inducted into the FBI Financial Crimes Unit with Hanratty's help.
- Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking / I Take Offense to That Last One: Frank confesses to Brenda he's not a doctor, lawyer, or a Lutheran and he's actually a young run-away; her response- "You're not a Lutheran?"
- Artistic License – Gun Safety: Carl walks through a hotel with his gun up, finger on the trigger, and even sweeps it across a civilian. Other agents are similarly cavilier. This is, of course, set before many modern firearms practices were even established. In fact, most of the agents don't even use both hands (Carl does use the modern Weaver stance a few times, which was developed in the 50s but not common until the 70s).
- Bavarian Fire Drill: Half of the cons.
- Beat Them at Their Own Game:
- Frank's in a hotel room wearing James Bond's suit, making out with a hooker when she gets up and negotiates him up to $1000 for the night. Frank's about to walk downstairs to cash a check ... and ends up signing a $1400 check over to her in return for the $400 difference.
- When Frank is practically begging his father to tell him it's OK to stop the cons, his father almost gleefully urges him to continue, feeling that Frank's crime is some sort of revenge on the government for his own tax problems.
- Black and White Morality: This is what Hanratty firmly believes in until he discovers that Frank is redeemable.
- Boxed Crook: Either Frank works for the FBI, or he stays in prison.
- Brick Joke: After Hanratty's boss chews him out and clearly gets on Hanratty's nerves, Hanratty references his previous Precision F-Strike by going "Chief? Knock Knock."
- From that same pair of scenes, Carl tells his fellow agents that if they just keep their eyes open and do their jobs, he'll buy them both a Good Humor bar, though at the time it seems like a throwaway condescending line. Guess what those two agents are munching on back at the boss' office?
- When Frank pretends to be a substitute teacher, he says his name isn't pronounced "A-big-nah-leh", among other methods. When Carl and his partner find his mother, they read his surname on the list the same way.
- The Casanova: Frank Jr. becomes a ladies' man and has many passionate flings throughout the movie. He falls in love with one in particular and tries to start a new life with her, but the FBI catches up with him.
- Cassandra Truth: Sorry Carl, Frank was at the Stuyvesant Arms, room 3113. Not so sure about Las Vegas, though...
- Carl refuses to believe that Frank passed the bar exam in Louisiana after studying for two weeks.
- The real Frank Abagnale says he passed legitimately at the third attempt after 16 weeks of studying. A loophole at the time allowed a person to re-sit the exam three times, and their marked exam papers were returned, so essentially they only had to correct the answers they got wrong.
- Carl refuses to believe that Frank passed the bar exam in Louisiana after studying for two weeks.
- Cheese-Eating Surrender Monkeys: Inverted. The French police actually seem very gung-ho about shooting Abagnale on sight.
- Chew Out Fake Out: Frank Sr.'s response on finding out that Frank Jr. has been teaching his French class is just to smirk and laugh that his boy had the balls to do it.
- Chronic Villainy: Frank eventually becomes addicted to the thrill of living like a playboy by conning money and eluding the authorities, while becoming tired from having to look over his shoulder all the time. He needs his father's support to stop, but Frank Sr. refuses for selfish reasons. Even when Frank tries to settle down his past catches up with him and he goes further into the criminal lifestyle. When Hanratty finally tracks him down in France, Frank almost seems like a thrill-seeking junkie, and Hanratty has to save him from getting himself killed. Subverted when he is released from prison to work for the FBI catching criminals like himself, and he almost goes back to his former life. He comes back into work on Monday and greets Carl as usual.
- Composite Character:
- Carl Hanratty, mostly based on former FBI agent Joe Shea.
- Brenda was a combination of two different girlfriends from the original memoirs.
- Consummate Liar: Frank lies about his identity, profession, to the FBI, his fiancé's parents, almost anything really.
- Criminal Mind Games: Played with, as Frank calls Hanratty yearly at Christmas; not to taunt him, but because of crushing loneliness. Also inverted as Hanratty actually uses these calls to taunt him about eventually catching up to him ("I'm getting close, aren't I?")
- Cut Lex Luthor a Check: Frank eventually gave up the life of crime and discovered he could make more money as a fraud consultant.
- Death by Falling Over: Frank is devastated to learn his father died after falling down a flight of stairs in Grand Central Station.
- Distracted by the Sexy: How Frank gave the entire FBI the slip at Miami Airport. Just get in the middle of a group of (wannabe) stewardesses, and you're invisible!
- Doctor Doctor Doctor: when Frank pretends to be a doctor.
- Eureka Moment: When Frank first meets Hanratty, he is masquerading as law enforcement officer "Barry Allen." Later, a kid points out that "Barry Allen" is the alter ego of comic book superhero The Flash, which makes Hanratty realizes that Frank, despite his looks, is just a kid himself.
- Freudian Excuse: Frank comes from a broken home and he ran away since he couldn't deal with choosing one parent over the other.
- Averted in the book. Abagnale says he had a hard time when his parents divorced, but he also says more than once that it's no excuse for his crimes, and most other children from "broken homes" don't become con artists (including Frank's own siblings).
- Friendly Enemy: Frank Abagnale Jr. and Carl Hanratty. It's done in an interesting way early on. Frank calls Carl to apologize for the fact that Carl has to deal with his crimes. He's being totally sincere, but Carl just thinks he's mocking him. It's one of the many things in the movie that show that while Frank may be a criminal mastermind, he's ultimately just a kid.
- Good for Bad: As a paper hanger, this is Frank's MO, exchanging worthless checks for money and services. The technique is most visibly used when Frank scams a model/hooker, swapping a phony check for the partial amount in cash, "paying" for a full night of fulfilling a high school fantasy.
- Good Girls Avoid Abortion: Averted with Brenda. In the scene where she reveals her history, she goes from merely winsome to tragic, and is played as a sweet, brokenhearted girl who is still paying for a terrible injury in her past. Her greatest penalty is that her parents, after they arranged for her procedure, disowned her.
- High School Hustler —> Con Man: Goes from pretending to be a teacher to get back at some bullies at his school to conning millions of dollars.
- How We Got Here: A double whammy: we start with Frank appearing on "To Tell the Truth", followed by a flashback to him in prison... followed by another flashback to 1963.
- I Never Said It Was Poison: "I never said your son was a criminal. I said he was in trouble."
- It's for a Book: More like It's For A School Newspaper Article. Frank pumps a Pan Am exec for info about how the airline industry works, using this tactic.
- Justified Criminal: Frank starts out his career of conning people and counterfeiting checks after running away from home and trying to support himself. He gets less sympathetic as his crimes and the amount of money he has stolen increase, but he remains likeable as a develish rogue who outsmarts his enemies with sheer brains and bravado, and also scores points for tiring of his life as a criminal.
- "Knock Knock" Joke: Hanratty has a splendid one after his new assistants show disdain over Hanratty's serious nature.Carl: Well, would you like to hear me tell a joke?His subordinate: Yeah, we'd love to hear you tell a joke.Carl: Knock knock.His subordinate: Who's there?Carl: (Beat) Go fuck yourselves.
- Language Barrier: While searching for Frank in France, Carl speaks English slooow-ly and LOUDLY to the French officials. They continue to speak French and give no indication that they have understood him.
- Loveable Rogue: Frank Abagnale (winningly played by Leonardo DiCaprio). He's a very clever young man who successfully passes for a lawyer, doctor, and airline pilot, whilst committing millions of dollars worth of check fraud. But he only does this because he sees no other prospects for himself; what he longs for most is a stable family. Pursuing FBI agent Carl Hanratty (Tom Hanks) comes to realize this, so arranges for Frank to eventually achieve a happy ending. This story has some overlap with Real Life.
- No Sense of Humor: Hanratty, whose all-business demeanor irks his partners.
- One Dialogue, Two Conversations: When Frank asks Brenda's father for permission to marry her. When Frank says that he isn't a doctor or lawyer but just a kid in love with his daughter, Brenda's father thinks Frank's only being sentimental.
- Also doubles as a Cassandra Truth, as Frank was pretty much confessing he was a fraud. Brenda's father misread it as sentimental.
- Parental Obliviousness: Frank's parents never seem overly concerned that their teenage son is a wanted felon being hunted by the FBI.
- Pastiche: John Williams' credit tune as well as the accompanying animation are a Shout-Out to The Pink Panther.
- The Perry Mason Method: Subverted. Watching episodes of the show and knowing a thing or two about spotting forgeries and lies does not help Frank prosecute a case. Largely because he overplayed his hand and forgot how much formal procedure there is involved in law practice.Judge: There is no defense, there is no jury. It's just me. Son, what in the hell is wrong with you?
- Precision F-Strike: Two words: "knock knock."
- There's even one in the musical when Carl Hanratty makes the connection between all of Frank Jr.'s fake names.
- Pretty in Mink: Jennifer Garner's scene had her in a mink jacket.
- Real Person Cameo: The real Frank Abagnale plays one of the French police officers who finally capture Frank.
- Record Needle Scratch: We hear one in-universe when Frank comes back to the apartment while his mother is entertaining her new lover.
- Reformed Criminal: Frank, at the end of the movie and in Real Life.
- Refuge in Audacity: The other half of the cons. Something Frank learned from his father plays into this as a bit of a Running Gag. "Why do the Yankees always win?" "Because the other teams are too busy looking at the damn pinstripes."
- Running Gag:
- "Two little mice..."
- "Even better."
- "Why do the Yankees always win?"
- "Is this yours?"
- Sexy Stewardess: To complete his impersonation of an airline pilot, Frank hires pretty young women to pose as flight attendants. He told the girls they had won an internship to train as stewardesses. He engineered the whole scheme in order to be able to enter an airport crammed with FBI agents looking for him and walk Right Under Their Noses - knowing that they would never notice him with all those beautiful, vivacious young girls surrounding him! And as a Refuge in Audacity, knowing that the FBI agents would never suspect the conman sneaking into the airport to be the most obvious freaking guy in the place.
- Sherlock Scan: A non-visual example in Hanratty being able to discern clues of Frank's whereabouts from his telephone calls; e.g. he figures out Frank's from New York from his mention of the Yankees, and that he's a kid from his use of the alias Barry Allen.
- Frank himself demonstrates a highly acute attention to detail throughout the film, starting with informing a classmate that her fake "note from mother" is missing a crease to be believable.
- The '70s: The last fifteen or so minutes of the film.
- The Sixties: The majority of the film.
- Squick: In-Universe: When "Dr" Frank sees the young boy with a broken leg, bleeding, and moaning in pain, he is very squicked and has to hold it in until he gets the other doctors to diagnose the treatment before bolting out to throw-up.
- Sympathetic Inspector Antagonist: Agent Carl Hanratty.
- Teen Genius: Frank.
- Title Drop: Sort of. "You gotta catch me."
- Troubled, but Cute: Well, he's played by Leonardo DiCaprio, isn't he?
- And Aaron Tveit
- Very Loosely Based on a True Story: Besides throwing in the Freudian Excuse for Frank becoming a con-artist and counterfeiter, many details from Frank Abagnale Jr.'s life were altered or added in the film.
- He is depicted reaching out to his father in-between cons, whereas the actual Frank never saw or spoke to his father again after leaving home. This drastically changes Frank's motivation in the film. Frank's father is portrayed as a con man and an early inspiration for his son's criminal career. In fact his father was an honest man, and the victim of Frank's first scam. His relationship with his father is portrayed as having been so close that he can only stop his criminal lifestyle if his father wants him to. Instead, his father, still embittered over the lack of support he received when his business went under, refuses and uses his son as a weapon to get back at the government. In reality, Frank continued his schemes simply because he was good at it, and because it was preferable to getting a hard-working job or going to jail.
- Frank is shown as an only child, when in real life he had three other siblings.
- Frank's quasi-friendship with Carl while Frank is on the run is entirely invented, although Frank and the agent who was chasing him did become friends after Frank was released from prison.
- Not surprisingly, Frank put a lot more effort into researching his roles than was shown in the movies. Many of the women he met, he loved for their minds. He also read medical texts and periodicals.
- He didn't escape from the plane they way they show it in the film. For one thing the septic tank on aeroplanes rarely detours into the luggage area. In his memoir Frank claims to have done exactly that (escaped out an aeroplane toilet). Of course, his memoir was Very Loosely Based on a True Story as well. In the memoir, he had flown back to the United States on a Vickers VC10; the toilet unit lifts out, so he could have escaped.
- As it turns out, the VC-10 episode was a fabrication, either by Abagnale or Stan Redding: The entire system is sealed, says Skip Jones of the Aerospace Industries Association. No matter what happens in there, you can't get into the rest of the airplane. Payloads Systems engineer Alan Anderson says plane bidets are mounted atop 100-pound-plus tanks, and that even if Abagnale were able to undo the system in silence, he'd have to crawl through a drainage pipe that's four inches in diameter. A person would have to be pretty small, and it would be messy, says Anderson.
- Frank was not finally caught in France by any cunning FBI work. He had decided to lie low and begin a new law-abiding life in Montpellier, but he was recognized by an Air France stewardness (and former girlfriend) who was vacationing in the town and notified the police. His final recapture in America was also different. He was recognized by two New York City detectives after walking past their car, and they arrested him.
- After Frank's release from the appalling French jail he spent a year in a Swedish jail. It was a Swedish judge who helped him become repatriated to the US (to jail) so he wouldn't have to serve jail sentences in the many European countries who sought his extradition.
- Villain Protagonist: Frank Abagnale Jr., the protagonist, is an adrift and young counterfeiter and con man who uses his natural cleverness to make some money, and his antagonist, Hanratty, is an FBI agent trying to, well, Catch Him if He Can. In the end Frank with Hanratty's support eventually goes straight.
- You Can't Go Home Again: From the moment he runs away, Frank's driving force is to rebuild his happy family. He finally realizes that he can never have that again when he learns is father has died, and his mother has moved on with a new family. He finally stops running and allows Carl to take him in without a fight.
- You Keep Using That Word: "Concur". Frank drops it in a conversation with one of the other doctors at the hospital, just because he thinks "Do you concur?" is a question that all doctors are supposed to ask each other. The word really just means "agree".(Frank watches a medical drama on television)
Doctor 1: Do you concur?
Doctor 2: I concur!
(later, when Frank is called in to respond to an emergency at the hospital)
Frank: Gentlemen. What, uh...what seems to be the problem here?
Ashland: Bicycle accident. Fractured tibia, about five inches below the patella.
Frank: I see. (beat) Dr. Harris? Do you concur?
Harris: Concur with what, sir?
Frank: With what Dr. Ashland just said. Do you...do you concur?
Harris: Well... It was a bicycle accident. The boy told us.
Frank: So you concur.
- Younger Than They Look: A key factor in how Abagnale was able to pull of his scams.