Genre: Action, Crime, Drama

Rating: PG-13 (for some sexual content and brief language)

Release Date: December 25, 2002

Actors: Tom Hanks, Leonardo DiCaprio, Christopher Walken, Martin Sheen, Amy Adams, Brian Howe, Frank John Hughes, Ellen Pompeo, Jennifer Garner

Director: Steven Spielberg

Special Notes: The movie has about 3 times as many sets as most movies do and DiCaprio has about 100 wardrobe changes.  As a teenager, Spielberg pretended to be an executive at Universal Studios by wearing a suit and walking around the studio lot to see how movies and television shows got made.  The real Frank served only four of his twelve year sentence by agreeing to work for the government and help them to catch fraud scandals.

Plot:  Based on a true story set in the mid-1960s about the wild escapades of 16-year-old Frank Abagnale Jr. (Dicaprio) who became a doctor, a lawyer, and a co-pilot for a major airline, all by the time he was 18.  Frank thought he was living the good life with his loving father, Frank (Walken) and mother, Paula (Baye), until his father started having financial problems with the I.R.S..  His family was forced to sell their house, their car and Frank saw his parent's marriage begin to crumble along with their lives. One day Frank is pulled out of school and told by a judge that his parents are getting divorced and Frank has to choose who he wants to live with. Traumatized by the news and circumstances, Frank Jr. hits the road and devises clever schemes to make it on his own. His brilliant three-year run as a master of deception includes a stint as a teacher, a Pilot with Pan Am, a pediatrician and even a lawyer. All the while he cashes fake checks and amasses millions buying sports cars, fancy suits, and pretending to be a kind of James Bond with women. The con enables him to go undetected for awhile but soon the FBI gets wise to the bank forgeries and sends agent Carl Hanratty (Hanks) whop specializes in the bank fraud division, after Frank. Frank's "good life" includes dating various women (Garner, Adams) who inspire him to try different careers. With each year that passes and with the large amount of forged checks that near $4 million, Frank has to invent ways to stay ahead of Carl and his team as they move ever closer in to catching him….if they can.

Good: An amazing story brilliantly directed by Spielberg with incredible performances from DiCaprio and Hanks. This is one of those movies that is so fascinating and clever to watch, you can't believe it's based on a man's real-life memoirs. It's a fascinating study of a brilliant mind who didn't plan to be on the FBI's most wanted list. I particularly enjoyed the ensemble of talented actors, especially the wonderful chemistry between Hanks and DiCaprio. Given the fact that DiCaprio is in two high-profile movies this holiday season ("Gangs of New York" being the other one), this role in particular is the one I believe critics will stand up and notice. His charismatic, childlike vulnerability and charm as well as his intelligence and persuasive capability, made him a natural to play this part. DiCaprio easily shows how Frank wasn't a sociopath or criminal by nature, just a misguided teenager looking for acceptance and trying to escape from his tragic family circumstances. Walken as Frank Sr. also gives one of the better performances of his career, playing a sad man who knows he's misled his son but is too proud to admit to his mistakes. Hanks is (as always) superb, no matter what role this man plays I love the humanity he brings to his characters. His "playing the by-the-book" Hanratty (who experiences problems of his own) is forced to wrestle with circumstance that require him to become smarter and break a few of his own rules in order to catch his man. So even when Hanks plays a character straight, the bizarre situation makes us laugh all the more.  The real core of this movie is Frank's inner turmoil at the breakup of his parents and wanting his family back together again. Also his inner desire to come clean and get out of his lonely life. Frank obviously needed a father figure and wanted to be told what to do and that's why Hanratty becomes so important, almost a fatherly figure, to him. In the end, there are moral lessons showing that crime doesn't pay and ultimately a price is paid for deception and trying to be something you're not. It also shows how Frank lived a lonely life, cut off from his family and the people he loved. In fact, up to the end he was still trying to get his father and mother back together again which sadly reflects on how many kids and teenagers are truly traumatized and deeply affected by divorce. Despite how much it looked life Frank was enjoying his wealth and benefiting from his con schemes, he still went to prison and paid a price for his crimes. The story shows how he missed out on a lot of life and makes for some interesting discussions that parents can have with their teenagers concerning "get rich quick" schemes and trying to "skate by in life" without working hard and honestly for a living. 

Bad: Because this is an adult story there are elements that I believe are too adult for most kids or young teens. Young fans of Spielberg or DiCaprio will undoubtedly want to see this movie but truthfully the story is more for older teenagers (16 and up) to adults, who can handle the adult material. There's some language (religious profanities and exclamations) as well as a couple of sexually implied situations and adult discussions (Frank is in bed with a girl and they talk about her virginity and a previous abortion that she had). An FBI agent holds a gun to Franks head but other than the chase scenes there's not any other violence. The film probably plays about a half hour too long, especially in explaining what happens to Abagnale after he gets caught, but you know what? I didn't mind it, because the story completely engaged me from beginning to end. 

Bottom Line: I enjoyed every minute of this fascinating story and I encourage mature older teens to adults to see it for the valuable lessons it holds. I liked this story because it reflects on a simpler age of innocence in America - a time when there was a community of trust and one that is impossible to have again in America because of our global community.  The real payoff to the story comes at the end of the movie where the audience discovers that the real Abagnale is now in his 50s and a legitimate businessman, father and loyal husband who also acts as a consultant for the FBI's bank fraud division helping them to catch fraud scams. For those who are interested, read his book "Catch Me If You Can", it's fascinating!