Catch Me if You Can
starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hanks, Christopher Walken, Martin Sheen, Nathalie Baye and Amy Adams
written by Jeff Nathanson
directed by Steven Spielberg
Another great performance by Tom Hanks, and a fair one by Leonardo DiCapiro. Based on the true life story of 1960s American conman Frank Abagnale Jr., considered the most successful bank fraudster in U.S. history.
The story of Frank Abagnale is interesting and engrossing in no small part because it is true, and because he was so young when he lived a runaway life of fraud. Between 1964 and 1967, before he was even 19-years-old, Abagnale successfully impersonated a PanAm airline pilot, a pediatrician in a Georgia hospital, and an assistant prosecutor in the State of Louisiana. He forged and cashed about $4 million in fraudulent checks, which is what led the FBI’s Financial Crimes Division to pursue and apprehend him.
Teenage crime is noting new today, but being a teenage criminal in the 1960s was probably much more uncommon/unusual (and deviant). Especially so because Abagnale was a white-collar criminal, not a car thief, a vandal, or a drug offender. He gave a whole new meaning to the phrase “juvenile delinquent.”
How could a teenager - 17-and-18-years old at the time - succeed so long, fooling so many people so completely in professional occupations? Couldn’t people tell just by looking at him and listening to him that he was a boy, not an adult man? First, Abagnale was a quick thinker and a quick talker. He could put on a convincing show. Second, and more significantly, is that people believe what they are told more than what they see with their own eyes.
“People believe what you tell them,” he says on the telephone to the FBI agent pursuing him, Carl
Handratty (Tom Hanks).
I have found this myself, and I sometimes play the lying game just to see if people will believe me. Or, to see what they will believe from me. Surprisingly, people will believe almost any outrageous thing I say if I make it sound convincing (not too far from the truth), if I say it with a straight face, and if I appear honestly to stick by my story. (Note to the reader: I never part company with a person and leave them believing a lie I told them as a joke.)
Here is an important lesson about human psychology and personality. We are susceptible to tricks. We watch a magician performing tricks. The magician tells us that he will saw the lady in half, or pour water into his hat, or make the rabbit disappear, but he never fails to admit that it is a deception. And yet the audience still marvels at the convincing look of it, temporarily forgetting that the performer just admitted that it is a performance and not real. Maybe people want to suspend their belief in reality. The professions of airline pilot, doctor and lawyer are so marvelous in people’s eyes (or were, anyway) that the magical glow of the job obscured the reality of the boy putting on the show. Amazing! Could I spot a convincing fake?
The Financial Crimes Division is not sexy crime fighting. It is a lot of tedious desk work, and does not feature car chases through the city, violent gun battles, or leaps from one rooftop to another. But financial crimes do carry a lot of punch. They are what put famous Chicago gangster Al Capone behind bars.