BY Alice Stansfield
“I learned early that class is universally admired. Almost any fault, sin or crime is considered more leniently if there’s a touch of class involved”.
- Frank W Abagnale.
These are the words of Frank W Abagnale, one of the most famous scam artists in the world and the youngest person ever placed on the FBI’s Most Wanted List. CATCH ME IF YOU CAN is based on the shockingly true semi-autobiographic book of the same name. By his 19th birthday, Abagnale (Leonardo DiCaprio) had acquired millions of dollars in counterfeit checks. This young individual’s personal sin is committing identity fraud posing as a pilot, a doctor, and a lawyer who steals an astonishing amount of money. Early on in his life he reinvents himself into a position of power, but how helpful is his greed to his success or does it lead to his inevitable downfall?
Greed is a prevalent theme throughout CATCH ME IF YOU CAN and Frank’s drive for success and greed for money undoubtedly comes from his idealisation of his father Frank Abagnale Sr (Christopher Walken). The film’s most memorable quote is Frank Sr’s speech at the Rotary Club award ceremony: “Two little mice fell in a bucket of cream. The first mouse quickly gave up and drowned. The second mouse, wouldn't quit. He struggled so hard that eventually he churned that cream into butter and crawled out. Gentlemen, as of this moment, I am that second mouse”.
The camera slowly zooms to a close-up of Frank Junior clapping enthusiastically at his father. He is reaching a point in his boyhood to ask himself the question: which mouse am I? Following his parents’ divorce, Frank thinks he can get his family back together if only he can make enough money. Arguably, from this angle, he is not driven by greed but his family.
Frank forms a remarkable relationship with his chaser, FBI agent Carl Hanratty (Tom Hanks). Over the years the loneliness felt by the two is underlined by their transformation from enemies to friends with mutual respect for each other’s position. Frank’s greed, however, continues to grow and causes him to reinvent himself more often with Hanratty only one step behind. The chase drives Frank to succeed even more.
Throughout his career, Leonardo DiCaprio has played similar greed-driven protagonists, including Jordan Belfort in THE WOLF OF WALL STREET (Martin Scorsese 2013) and Jay Gatsby in THE GREAT GATSBY (Baz Luhrmann 2013). Like CATCH ME IF YOU CAN, these films focus on young entrepreneurs achieving phenomenal wealth and status at a young age but then subsequently facing their downfall after their excessive needs outweigh them. Frank Abagnale, however, is not presented as a villainous, unlikeable character. He is made aware he will eventually have to pay for his sins when Hanratty comments repressively that “the house always wins”. His criminality destroys his romance with Brenda (Amy Adams), his peace of mind and his health. When Hanratty calls the con game "living the lie”, Frank’s loneliness begins to show as he celebrates his success alone. Greed might be the key to success but it will ultimately result in your downfall.