A little too much self-love here, with scenes to pad it out beyond 2 hours,
as though such length establishes its importance and seriousness. Still, the
drama manifested in a movie length story of a chase is sure fire material for
entertainment. Add to that a sterling cast and a lightness of touch of a
comedic caper comedy and you have a picture that's good enough to make you ignore
a few flaws.
And, oh yeah, this is a film made by Steven Spielberg, and there's something
particularly interesting about that. Spielberg has established his patent on
all that's good and memorable about motherhood. He did this to an
embarrassing degree in "AI:
Artificial Intelligence". So what does he do here? He extols the
relationship between a son and his father! This could have
come from Frank Abagnale, Jr.'s own account in his autobiography, the
original source material, but how attached is Spielberg to the parental
It was Frank, Sr's (Christopher Walken) introduction to social engineering,
self promoting and devious dodges around legalities that got Jr.'s mind to
work in that direction and make him the youngest man to ever get on the FBI's
ten most wanted list. How strong our early impressions, often the basis of
a life's path. Frank Abagnale, Jr. (Leonardo DiCaprio) took that path,
widened it, paved it with phony checks and a stream of false identities, and
made it his own. This story recounts how, detail by detail, he learns the
fine points about checks and the banking system to the extent that he becomes
an expert in check kiting and deductions about the originators of phony ones.
His exploits with increasingly sophisticated checks make him a millionaire
2 1/2 times over, while hooking FBI agent Carl Hanratty (Tom Hanks) onto his
con man trail. Why wouldn't he, since his exploits include passing himself
off as an airplane co-pilot, a doctor and a lawyer. Shades of that old TV
drama, "The Pretender"!
What sustains the dramatic flair of the film is the cat and mouse play
between the pursued and the pursuer. Frank is deliciously one step ahead of
fumbling agent Hanratty while taunting him with late Christmas eve phone
calls to chat him up as well as to rub it in. But, there's also the serious
side of Frank's essential loneliness and need to talk to someone when he
can't see his father.
His love for his father is a powerful motif of the story, quickly arranging
to see him upon his first check kiting successes to improve the old man's
life. But money and a new cadillac are not things that Frank, Sr. can accept
as a convicted and paroled felon who has lost everything except the watchdogs
of the IRS and a low paying job.
Despite the fact that father Frank is betrayed by his former wife Paula
(Nathalie Baye), this script, adapted from Abagnale's book by Jeff
Nathanson has no visceral verbal condemnation uttered by either father or son
as though the motherhood that is so sacrosanct to Spielberg is to be
protected no matter what scummy act she might perpetrate. A mother is, after
all, a mother. But we do see her comfortably ensconced with her new husband,
Frank Sr.'s old chum, Jack Barnes (James Brolin). Some details can't be
avoided even when it destroys the idealization.
When his escapes and escapades bring him to the world of medicine, in which
Abagnale gains employment as a staff doctor in a hospital, he meets sweet nurse
Brenda Strong (Amy Adams), sweeps her off her feet and out of the hospital
and tries to salvage her souring relationship with her parents by asking her
father and pillar of Georgia society, Roger Strong (Martin Sheen), for her
hand in marriage. But, on the big wedding day, he's tracked to the Strong
residence by Agent Hanratty and his team. He escapes once more with a failed
attempt to bring Brenda along with him for the companionship he craves. But,
she's being shadowed by agents and he's off on his own again.
The entire cast has a good handle on the serio-comedic style of the story.
Hanks and DiCaprio's ability to play both sides of that equation explain the
success and the positive energy of the movie, with considerable supporting
contribution by Walken and Sheen. Technical contributions are up to director
Spielberg's level of quality with superb and adaptive cinematography by
One can only be a fan of Spielberg's in view of his considerable range. His
last film, the dark, supernatural police thriller, "Minority Report" couldn't be
farther from this light romp edged with fateful consequences and its way of
rendering credible a bond between two characters who occupy opposite
positions on the chasm of crime. It's a study in strategy and small
What's not satisfying is what's unnecessary. What was said before about
self-love and padding is exemplified by a scene in which Agent Hanratty,
admittedly a bit of a nerdy clutz, is washing his clothes in a laundromat.
It's one of several scenes that slow the pace, that are over indulgent, that
add nothing to the story or its characters. Another element that is more
annoying than helpful is the accent Hank's affects. One can only guess
that it's an attempt on the real Abagnale's Bronxville tones, but it comes
off more Massachusetts derived.
But, we'll give it these carps since it scores better than many another
overlong movie in the qualities that are most important to an overall good
time with a dash of ironic fatefulness. The details in the training of a
super con artist is a well thought out manual of "how he did it", including
the charm that made Abagnale's career possible and so outstanding.
~~ Jules Brenner