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Catch Me If You Can (12A)

Review by: Jack Foley | Rating: Two

DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Behind the camera (17 mins). Cast Me If You Can (28 mins). Scoring (5 mins). Frank Abagnale: Between Reality And Fiction (15 mins). The FBI Perspective (7 mins). In Closing (4 mins).

BY THE age of 21, Frank W Abagnale had worked as a doctor, a lawyer and as a co-pilot for a major airline, ‘spending’ millions and travelling around the world. He was also one of the most sought after masters of deception in America, as well as a brilliant forger.

By the time of his capture, in 1969, he had written $2.5 million worth of bad cheques and was virtually a celebrity - so it is little wonder, then, that the life of this ‘James Bond of the skies’ has formed the inspiration for the latest Steven Spielberg movie, starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hanks.

Catch Me If You Can is the director’s lightest film in years, a joyous romp through 1960s America that succeeds because of the sheer audacity of its premise, as well as the quality of its performances.

DiCaprio has seldom been better, while the likes of Hanks and Christopher Walken, in less showier roles, lend some excellent support.

Yet it is the breezy style of proceedings, as well as the tongue-in-cheek manner of the deceptions, which help to make the film such an unqualified success, making it easy to see why so many people were seduced by this slick conman.

Abagnale operated at a time when finger-printing and Big Brother-style security cameras were virtually non-existent, slipping from East Coast to West Coast America with relative ease. His fingerprints were the trail of dud cheques that he left in his wake, yet his good looks and golden tongue meant that he could talk his way in to (or out of) most situations.

Yet the relish with which he carried out his cons was borne out of a troubled youth - as, at the age of 16, he was forced to choose between his parents and ran away, determined to reunite his family.

It is here that the line between truth and fiction becomes somewhat blurry, as, on-screen, the loneliness and sense of desperation that follows, brings him closer to the FBI agent chasing him, played by Hanks.

Abagnale makes a point of calling his pursuer each Christmas Eve - having previously given him the slip when it would have been easier to have got caught - and the two develop a begrudging respect; so much so, that by the time Abagnale had served five years of a 12-year sentence, the agent (named Carl Hanratty on-screen/Joe Shaye in real-life) persuaded the FBI to take him on in their cheque forgery department (under their custody).

The chemistry between DiCaprio and Hanks is an important factor in the film’s success, as is the interplay between the former and his struggling father (played in exemplary fashion by Walken).

Yet it is credit to Spielberg that he refrains from employing too much sentimentalism until late in the movie, preferring instead to keep things lively from the start (as in the glorious titles sequence, which harks back to films such as The Pink Panther).

Several sequences stand out, such as a delightfully wayward seduction involving Alias star, Jennifer Garner, or DiCaprio’s stint as a doctor, but all are guaranteed to put a smile on your face.

In real-life, Abagnale has since issued a statement stressing that many events in the film are ‘exaggerated and over-dramatised’, although he remains ‘honoured’ that the combined talents of Spielberg and co wanted to make a film inspired by the events of his life.

Yet there is little doubt that the events depicted, however far from the truth at times, are remarkable and the film is to be applauded on many levels.

It may ultimately outstay its welcome, but it is like a breath of fresh air amid the current crop of heavier Oscar contenders.

For the record, Abagnale has since become a leading authority on forgery, embezzlement and secure documents and is a multi-millionaire. Who says crime doesn’t pay?

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