2002 Certificate: 12

Synopsis

Based on a strange-but-true story, Steven Spielberg's terrific crime caper stars Leo DiCaprio as Frank Abagnale Jr, the teenage fraudster who racked up millions of dollars in bank scams... while posing as, amongst other things, a pilot and a doctor. Tom Hanks is the dogged FBI man who always seems one step behind. Wonderful support comes from the Oscar-nominated Christopher Walken as Frank's dad while Jennifer Garner makes an early impression as a high class call girl. A fleet-footed and surprisingly affecting joyride.

Director

  • Steven Spielberg

Cast

  • Leonardo DiCaprio

  • Tom Hanks

  • Christopher Walken

  • Jennifer Garner

  • Nathalie Baye

  • Martin Sheen

  • Amy Adams

Review

"You're just full of surprises," gushes smitten fiancee Brenda (Amy Adams) as she gazes adoringly at husband-to-be Frank Conners (DiCaprio).

And ain't that the truth. Or rather, ain't that the untruth. Frank Conners is, in fact, Frank W Abagnale Jr. He's not 28 - he's 17. Oh, and he's not a doctor. He's still at college.

In fact, Frank is rarely what he claims to be. It's easy to say "blame the parents" but, in this case, his mildy deceitful dad (Walken) has a lot to answer for.

When the happy home is brutally severed by divorce, young Frank goes off the rails, bouncing cheques so he can flee on the train to New York.

Realising that looks are everything, he acquires the uniform of a PanAm co-pilot and is soon defrauding the airline for all it's worth.

Discovering he has the unerring eye of a forger, he counterfeits cheques, even going to the lengths of delicately soaking model PanAm jets in the bath to tease off the transfer logo.

Soon, in his guise as a glamorous fly-boy, he's hitching lifts with other airlines all over the States to become the scourge of bank tellers from Miami to San Francisco.

However, the FBI are onto him in the form of dedicated agent Carl Hanratty (Hanks), a divorcee who happily volunteers to work Christmas Eve.

But he's got to catch him first. Tiring of the pilot look, Frank stays a step ahead by opting to impersonate a doctor (taking tips from TV medical soaps), and even dallies with the law as an assistant prosecutor.

Along the way, he gets engaged to Brenda, whose father (Sheen) sees through his scams but dismisses them as the winning ways of a born romantic.

Coming close a couple of times, Carl is slowly closing in on his quarry... but can the mouse stay that one vital step in front of the cat?

Spielberg has put weightier subjects like Minority Report behind him to come up with a first-class caper movie, which has the added zest of being inspired by a true story.

Frank's scams are so successful because they were totally of their time - no electronic banking, no magnetic strips... just fallible bank employes.

And he's not just a first-rate forger - in one scene he silkily smooth-talks a high class hooker into a romp that leaves him $400 up on the deal.

He's also not without vanity, hilariously aping Sean Connery and even buying an Aston Martin DB5 after being seduced by 007 in Goldfinger at the cinema.

DiCaprio is on firm ground as the accomplished 'paper-hanger' after his unconvincing street-fighter in Gangs Of New York, while Hanks is well-cast as his dogged but decent nemesis.

Other pleasures include the exquisite attention to period detail, which make it one of the most watchable films for an age.

Catch it if you can.

Tim Evans