Feature by: Jack Foley
"THINGS that happen in real life are sometimes a hundred
times more fascinating than anything a person could make up off
the top of his head," remarks Leonardo DiCaprio, when talking
about the story behind Catch Me If You Can.
The actor portrays Frank W. Abagnale, Jr, a man who, as a runaway
teenager, without so much as a high school diploma to his name,
managed to pass himself off as an airline pilot, a doctor, a lawyer,
and a college professor, all while cashing millions of dollars
in fraudulent checks.
Based on Abagnales biography, the film is an effortlessly
enjoyable romp, co-starring Tom Hanks and Christopher Walken,
that chronicles an extraordinary story. Though Abagnale was eventually
caught and served time in prison, he went on to work for the FBI
and is now a leading authority on the subject of embezzlement
and fraud - a millionaire.
Yet, as with most Steven Spielberg movies, the story which unfolds
is borne out of tragedy and was triggered by a defining moment
in the teenage Abagnales life.
As Abagnale offers in his biography: "It begins with my
parents divorce and its dramatic effect on me. I ran away
and suddenly found myself a teenager alone in the world.
"I had to grow up very quickly and become very creative
in order to survive. But what started out as survival became more
and more of a game. I was an opportunist, so when I saw an opening
I asked myself, Could I get away with that?
"Then there was the satisfaction of actually getting away
with it. The more I got away with, the more of a game it became
- a game I knew I would ultimately lose, but a game I was going
to have fun playing until I did."
A bestseller, Abagnales autobiography has fascinated millions
of readers, including director/producer Steven Spielberg.
"I was like the many people who fell under the seductive
influence of the real Frank William Abagnale, Jr., just through
his book. and when you meet him, you understand in a second how
he could pull the wool over your eyes and convince you that he
was a doctor or a lawyer.
"I was fascinated by the unique way he came of age. I really
believe he was very strongly affected by the divorce of his parents.
There are all sorts of ways kids act out against divorce, and
Frank just happened to act out in a way that was so original,
it was worth making a movie about.
"Personally, I have always loved movies about sensational
rogues, like the Newman/Redford classics Butch Cassidy and
the Sundance Kid and The Sting. They were breaking
the law, but you had to love them for their moxie."
Although the book had been previously optioned, Abagnale admits:
"I never dreamed it would ever really be a movie. How do
you condense five eventful years of a life into a two-hour movie?"
The period during which Abagnale was able to pull off such elaborate
scams was the decade of the 1960s, and Spielberg attributes at
least some of Abagnales success to the innocence of the
Spielberg explains: "It was a time of tremendous trust,
when you never locked your doors, but felt safe."
Aside from the challenge of telling the story in just two hours,
Spielberg also jumped at the chance of working with DiCaprio,
an actor he has long admired.
"I have been a huge fan of Leos, dating back to his
work in This Boys Life and then Whats
Eating Gilbert Grape, which was a phenomenal performance,"
he says. "Leo is a very inventive actor and has a lot of
ideas. He is also his own best critic. There were times Id
accept a certain take, and Leo would say, No, no. I think
theres something I havent found yet; let me do it
again. And he would invariably come up with something that
was just brilliant."
DiCaprio also jumped at the chance to play the role of Abagnale,
saying: "For an actor, its all about the art of misdirection
how, for example, Frank is able to make somebody concentrate on
being asked out to dinner as opposed to the phony check hes
about to pass. I think those are fantastic elements for an actor
to play," he adds.
The actor even had the opportunity to meet with the real Frank
Abagnale and relates that he still caught glimpses of the one-time
con mans innate ability to disarm you.
"To look at him, you wouldnt think he could steal
a postage stamp. But he has an almost unconscious way of engaging
you with his eyes, with his energy and with his intelligence."
With DiCaprio in place, the production team then turned towards
casting the role of the FBI agent who goes after him - a part
which immediately appealed to Tom Hanks.
He comments: "Carl [Hanratty] is so impressed with the style
and panache of his quarry that hes doubly astounded to discover
how young he is.
"Carl suddenly realizes that he is just a kid, incredibly
gifted but ultimately a child, who is in the midst of an adventure
that is bigger than he is.
"Carl comes to feel almost protective of Frank. I mean,
he treats him like a criminal - hes going to arrest him
and send him to jail - but at the end of the day, he sees a fragile
human being who is worth trying to redeem somehow."
That said, no one could ever take the place of Franks real
father in his eyes, particularly as Frank Abagnale, Sr. was the
greatest influence in his sons life. As such, Frank Jr.s
devotion to his father remains steadfast, throughout, providing
the movie with its emotional core.
The scenes between DiCaprio and Christopher Walken (who plays
Abagnale Snr) are among the strongest in the film, and led to
one of the best moments for Spielberg on set.
The director recalls: "I have been a great admirer of Christopher
Walken and have always had a desire to work with him. So the minute
Walter said, Have you ever considered Chris Walken?,
everything came into focus about who should play Leonardo DiCaprios
Producer, Walter F Parkes concurs, adding: "We were filming
the scene in the restaurant between Leo and Chris where Chris
is talking about his wife, Franks mother, leaving him.
"We get to the close-ups, and halfway through the speech,
his eyes well up, his voice breaks and he starts to weep.
"Steven and I looked at each other like, Where did
that come from? It was so real and so immediate, and it
changed the essence of the scene to one of heartbreaking emotion.
"That kind of non-mechanical, genuine acting is what you
pray for, and its what you get with Christopher Walken."
It is just one of many reasons why viewers should make an effort
to catch up with this film