Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Catch me if you can (4½ Stars)

This is the true story of Frank Abagnale, one of the most successful con men ever. His criminal career began when he ran away from home at the age of 15. He forged cheques worth more than four million dollars before he was 19. The film is supposedly accurate as far as his crimes are concerned, but fictionalises the relationship with his father.

The film is directed by Steven Spelberg and stars Leonardo DiCaprio as Frank Abagnale. To get the fictional aspects out of the way first, it was important to present Frank's love for his father as his motivation for his crimes. This makes his character more sympathetic to the audience than if he had been shown as a selfish cold-hearted criminal. In 1963 (when Frank was 15) his father had lost money in his business and was facing bankruptcy due to IRS payment claims. I think this is something that could only happen in America. In England (and most other western countries), if a company loses money no tax is due. In America the Inland Revenue levies taxes on a company's profits, even if the profits are subsequently lost later in the year. This leads to the absurd situation that people with no money are expected to pay high tax bills. Young Frank felt that the government was robbing his father -- which is true, if it really happened the way the film portrays it -- so he swore to steal the money back from the government and give it to his father.

When his parents divorced Frank ran away from home rather than decide which parent to live with. His first attempts to cash cheques failed, until he had the idea of pretending to be a pilot. In a pilot's uniform he had no problems cashing forged cheques, because everyone trusts a pilot. Pilots have a reputation as being something special, even more than judges or doctors. It's a mixture of the responsibility and the uniform. Last year I visited a night club and met a group of American navy pilots who were stationed in Cosford, near Wolverhampton. They were in full uniform. They told me that it wasn't compulsory for them to wear their uniforms when off duty, but they did so "because English girls go crazy about the uniforms". It was true. Girls were practically fighting to get near the pilots. Maybe I should buy myself a pilot's uniform.

Of course, it wasn't just the uniform. Frank Abagnale was a skilled forger. As well as cheques he forged certificates, enabling him to work as a doctor and a lawyer. Throughout his short but highly successful criminal career Frank was pursued by the FBI agent Carl Hanratty (played by Tom Hanks), and the two developed a respect for one another.

After his arrest in 1969 he was given short prison sentences in France and Sweden. He was then extradited to America and sentenced to 12 years in prison. This sentence was cut short when he was offered a job in the bank fraud development of the FBI, where he worked for 26 years. No criminals were a match for his skills of fraud detection.

The real Frank Abagnale.

It's been a long time since I last watched this film. Maybe 10 years. I'm not sure why I waited so long. I have a great respect for Steven Spielberg as a director, but there are only a few of his films that really grip me. His films are too smooth, too perfect. "Catch me if you can" has enough of a rough edge to make it a thrilling film. I also consider it to be Leonardo DiCaprio's second best film, second only to "Titanic".

Frank's escape from police custody when being extradited to America seems so ridiculous that it couldn't possibly be true, but I've found out that it really did happen as shown. He jumped out of a moving plane while it was taxiing on the runway at JFK Airport. He managed to break through a fence and flee across country before finally being apprehended.

The prison in France was even worse than how it's shown in the film. According to Wikipedia, "At Perpignan he was held nude in a tiny, filthy, lightless cell that he was never allowed to leave. The cell lacked toilet facilities, a mattress, or a blanket, and food and water were strictly limited". That sounds disgusting. Were things really so bad in France in 1970?

No comments:

Post a Comment

Tick the box "Notify me" to receive notification of replies.