I don’t like Ocean’s Eleven. I also don’t tend to like heist movies in general. Why, do you ask? Because they tend to drive the audience towards rooting for criminals. Yet I sometimes have a dilemma, because I’m still fascinated by the intricacies of these kinds of heists. That may not be altogether good, but there is a middle ground. It’s called Catch Me If You Can.
One of Leonardo DiCaprio’s staple films (as well as one of Tom Hanks’s best performances), Catch Me If You Can tells the true story of Frank Abagnale, Jr. who had committed fraud totaling over $4 million by the time he was 19 years old. The guy was absolutely brilliant, as well as utterly devious, and the film does a tremendous job of telling his story.
Frank is 17 at the time that the film begins, and he’s a pretty normal kid in a successful, stable family. His parents have a romantic story, he looks up to his dad, things are all around pretty good. Then everything goes to pot and fast. His dad’s tax fraud catches up with him. They lose the money. Then his mother has an affair and his parents get a divorce. He’s forced to choose who he wants to live with.
So instead of choosing between his parents, he runs away and starts conning people. Seems logical enough, right?
Then comes Carl, the somewhat quirky FBI agent who gets on Frank’s tail and chases him hard. It’s a brilliant performance by Tom Hanks, and even though the intelligent Frank makes a fool out of him a couple times, you know that Carl isn’t an idiot. You’re found easily rooting for him instead of against him, and you want him to win out in the end. Yet you also want Frank to win out.
Or do you?
The trick in this film is that it’s based on a true story, so whereas in other films the writers choose what happens and why, inflicting a very clear worldview onto us as viewers, here it’s not so simple. There are, however, some very teachable moments in the film. It starts with the realization that Frank’s father, who we thought at the beginning was a good dad, doesn’t tell Frank to stop, but rather encourages it. Frank hates that. In one of the most emotional moments in the film, Frank’s father reminds him that he’s his father, to which Frank replies “Then tell me to stop!” There’s a lot of evaded responsibility in the film’s setup. Irresponsibility on the part of his dad as a father and example, on his mother as a woman running away from her marriage into the arms of a lover, and on the part of Frank in his cons.
Responsibility, as a matter of fact, seems to be the point of the film. Later in the movie Frank has found a girl that he wants to settle down with, and he asks Carl to stop chasing him (practically begs him, actually). He promises Carl that he won’t con anybody anymore, but Carl brings up the millions of dollars that are on his head already. “You don’t get to walk away from this, Frank,” he says.
(Spoiler Alert Below)
This message is especially clear when, after Frank has been caught, the judge denies his request to be tried as a minor. His age didn’t absolve him of responsibility. In a way, he was just a kid vying for attention (there are hints that he just wanted his parents to get back together), but he was still responsible for his actions.
There are a lot of take-homes here. For one, it reminds us what effect parents have on the lives of their children. In this case it shows the consequences of a negative example, wherein the lack of responsibility in both of Frank’s parents was passed to him. The primary lesson, however, is what irresponsibility leads to in Frank’s case. At age 19, he was sentenced to 12 years in prison, all of that being in isolation (he didn’t serve all of that, as the FBI used him as a consultant for part of that sentence).
It also tells us that people can change. You wouldn’t have thought that would be the case with Abagnale; after all, conning people was almost a way of life for him, and he was good at it. But he changes. My favorite part of the film is the ending, showing the difference in Frank’s character. It’s very representative of real-life person, who went on to help the FBI catch several crooks like himself, and becoming the country’s foremost authority on bank security.
The film is not without its faults, however. It has good lessons and is done very well with phenomenal acting, but it’s also filled with more than its fair share of profanity and innuendo, not to mention a handful of sex scenes as well. ClearPlay is highly recommended for this watch. Once that content is removed, however, what remains is a moving story that reminds us that we will one day answer for our actions, and that we can change, both of which are very Biblical concepts (1 Peter 4:5, 1 Cor. 6:11).