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(For Day 1 of NaPoWriMo, the prompt was to write a poem in the style of former U.S. Poet Laureate Kay Ryan, which might be summed up as short lines, tight rhymes, and deep thoughts.)


The urge to run,
To risk and dare
With the nerve to splurge
Is a powerful one.
Why stay put
With an itchy foot
When fun is
To be had out there?
A still life is fine,
Nothing bad, no offense,
But I swear
Between me
And life checked by design,
The difference
Is the same
Between watching a film
And a frame.

MPAA rating: PG-13

Back when Leonardo DiCaprio still had his Jack Dawson boyishness about him, he starred in Catch Me If You Can, Steven Spielberg’s con artist lark based on real life forger Frank Abagnale. This story of a man who impersonated an airline pilot, a doctor, and a lawyer and stole millions of dollars back in the 1960s isn’t nearly as heavy as the actual consequences of those actions, but Spielberg hits a good mix of tone and style.

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The trickiest part of this kind of story was making Frank likable enough for the audience to sympathize with him, despite the wanton fraud he commits, and it’s done rather effortlessly by DiCaprio’s natural appeal and a look into his childhood. Following the example of his cajoling father (Christopher Walken), Frank enjoys misrepresenting himself and pushes to see how far his fibs can go, especially after his family is torn apart by financial trouble and divorce. Once he runs away, he becomes a master of forging checks and bluffing his way through any obstruction; his schemes soon catch the notice of FBI agent Carl Hanratty (Tom Hanks, less likable than usual), and the chase is on.

Catch Me If You Can presents its subject with some subtle skill. On the one hand, there’s the risky romance of Frank pushing every boundary he can, fueled by the thrill of the chase and an unwillingness to give up. Plus, it’s just fascinating to watch feats of duplicity from the ‘60s that I doubt anyone could get away with nowadays. Yet at the same time, Frank is something of a tragic figure as well, deprived of a normal family or love life. His early failed fraud attempts show he’s a fallible kid who simply got better with practice, and at the end of the day, he can’t escape the loneliness of his rootless impostor existence, especially when the only person you have to call on Christmas Eve is the FBI agent hunting you.

As well as it handles its subject matter, the film can’t quite escape the fact that its protagonist is a criminal, an objection that is probably personal on my part since I’ve never been a fan of heist films. It’s entertaining to watch his devil-may-care adventures, but it’s still wrong, especially how he dumps a would-be fiancée (very young Amy Adams) for the sake of escape, an offense the film never revisits. Thankfully, the final ten minutes or so vastly improve and redeem the true-crime narrative by utilizing Frank’s experience and attention to detail and bringing some constructive good out of it all.

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Spielberg’s version of events apparently changes some aspects of the history, but the real Abagnale didn’t mind the embellishments (which isn’t surprising) and approved of the finished film. Catch Me If You Can serves as an entertaining outlet for Spielberg, Hanks, and especially DiCaprio and Walken, and while it proves crime can pay in the end, the life of a fraud can be deeper than it looks.

Best line: (Frank, finally telling the truth) “Brenda, I don’t want to lie to you anymore. All right? I’m not a doctor. I never went to medical school. I’m not a lawyer, or a Harvard graduate, or a Lutheran. Brenda, I ran away from home a year and a half ago when I was 16.”   (Brenda) “Frank? Frank? You’re not a Lutheran?”


Rank: List Runner-Up


© 2017 S.G. Liput
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