“Brenda, I don’t want to lie to you anymore. All right? I’m not a doctor. I never went to medical school. I’m not a lawyer, or a Harvard graduate, or a Lutheran. Brenda, I ran away from home a year and a half ago when I was 16.”
Frank Abagnale Jr. isn’t an ordinary teenager. Distraught when his parent’s marriage ends in divorced he runs away when told he has to choose which parent to live with. With twenty five dollars in the bank Frank finds the world a pretty cold place as a sixteen year old runaway, but by posing as an airline pilot with a fake Pan Am ID and uniform the banks open their vaults to him.
His aim is to survive, but there’s adventure in breaking the law. But the money is more than merely a way to get by. Frank desperately wants to reunite his divorced parents and uses the money to buy his down and out father a Cadillac. But it’s not just a car. It’s an image to help his father impress his ex wife.
In pursuit of the ingenious imposter is Carl Hanratty. Carl is a straight arrow FBI agent who is determined to crack the case and get the man who’s inventing new ways of passing bad checks.
What he doesn’t know is the man he’s after is a teenager.
Why We Love It
This is one of Spielberg’s best films, made all the more exceptional by the lack of special effects, aliens or gimmicks of any kind. That’s right, no aliens, just flawed human beings. This is Spielberg telling a great story with humor and heart. He assembled the right cast with Leonardo DiCaprio opposite Tom Hanks. There’s excellent support from Amy Adams, Martin Sheen and Christopher Walken and Jennifer Garner.
The film captures the time period of the early sixties giving the era a golden glow. It’s an idealized vision of the era. Airline pilots in pristine uniforms walk with a bevy of perfect stewardesses alongside. Heads turn. Frank at one point eludes capture by recruiting pretty high school girls to act as decoys. Dressed as stewardesses they surround him allowing him to catch a flight and escape.
At one point Frank buys into the James Bond mystique. He has the suits and the car. With this image he outsmarts Jennifer Garner’s model turned high end hooker, passing her a bad check and making four hundred dollars in the process.
The center, the engine of the film is the relationship between Frank and Carl. They might start as adversaries, but in the end something akin to a father and son bond develops. Not really warm and fuzzy – but one of mutual need, respect and understanding.
Frank’s drive for money and a kind of success is a desperate attempt to reunite his parents and rebuild his family. It’ll take him a long time to understand it’s impossible. At the end, when he’s made a dangerous escape from the airplane returning him to the United States from France, he runs to his mother’s home. She’s remarried and he looks through the window, an outsider, no longer a part of her life. A little girl looks through the window and he realizes he has a half sister. There’s no place for him present and he has to let go of the past he idealized.
Moment We Fell In Love
The Abagnale family has fallen on hard times. Frank Sr. owes money to the IRS. They have to leave their home and move into a small apartment. Frank Jr. has to leave his private school and brave the waters of public school.
Walking in the hall on his first day a student slams into him, stopping to laugh at Frank. Frank goes to his first class and the boy who laughed at him is sitting in the front row. Frank’s next move will wipe the smile off the bully’s face. He doesn’t take a seat and wait for the teacher. He becomes the teacher assuming authority over the students. The sixteen year old Frank has taken his first step towards his life as an imposter. He’s eventually caught, but he’s got a taste of the power of deception.
I love when all the elements that make a film come together seamlessly. When there’s work that makes me want to see a movie so many times that even though I know what’s coming, I don’t care. The film is still is as fresh as the first time I saw it when I didn’t know the fate of the protagonist. Even knowing that Frank is going to use his knowledge of the flaws in bank security to turn his life around and become a law abiding citizen, I still enjoy the film. My knowledge of the outcome doesn’t matter. The movie remains one of my favorites.
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