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<i>Catch Me If You Can</i> Teams Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hanks - 2003-01-01

Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hanks co-star in a fast-paced cat and mouse game directed by Steven Spielberg and based on a true story. Catch Me If You Can has proven to be wonderfully entertaining.

In 1964, 16-year-old Frank Abagnale, distraught over his parents' divorce, ran away from home. He survived by successfully impersonating various respected professionals, among them airline pilot, college professor, doctor and lawyer.

By the time he was 20, when he was caught, he had cashed millions of dollars in phony checks. Leonardo DiCaprio stars as Frank Abagnale, whom he describes as "a great, instinctual actor."

"His cons at times almost seem too good to be true and too obvious, but that's what he played with and that's the elements of any great magician, too: throw something in the audience's face while they do their sleight of hand move," said DiCaprio. "It's the art of misdirection that Frank Abagnale mastered; but that comes from a state of mind, too. He was ripped apart from his home. He came from a divorced home where he had to choose between his mother and his father. That propelled him out into the real world and made him feel that he didn't have to answer to anyone."

"The challenge, of course, is starting with a man who is already incarcerated, and then begging the audience permission to so sympathize with him that they don't want that first scene to come true," said director Steven Spielberg.

Spielberg, whose own parents split up when he was a teenager and is, himself, a divorced father, believes that aspect of Frank's life gives insight into his larcenous adventures. "I emphasized the divorce to try to give him a reason: trying to put his parents back together or his loneliness, because he was basically a boy on the run having to invent himself for the first time," he said.

"He came of age on the run, doing all these brilliant scams. So I thought the divorce almost excused some of the early things that he did. The other thing that i think excuses a lot of what he does [is that] he goes after the big banks that hurt his dad. He doesn't go after the 'mom and pop' stores. He always paid cash for groceries. He paid cash when he bought stationery to forge the checks. He always paid cash to the small stores because he didn't want to hurt anybody."

The real Frank Abagnale now works as a consultant to the FBI and top corporations, giving expert advice on how to prevent fraud. He admits a major concern of his was that the film not glamorize his escapades which he describes, today, as "illegal and immoral" "Obviously, as a kid, there was a lot of fun to it," he said. "To any 16-year-old, dating 25-year-old women is a lot of fun. What started to bother me was my conscience. For the first three or four years, I could always walk into a bank say to myself, 'This bank has a billion dollars, I'm going to go in and cash a $500 check. What do they care?' But when I got to be about 19 years old, I'd walk into the bank and realize that I had convinced this teller to break every rule and cash this check for me. When I walked out, I felt guilty about the teller who might lose her job and not be able to get a job at another bank. It was maturity and my conscience. I knew I would eventually get caught. It was just a matter of time."

Tom Hanks plays FBI agent Carl Hanratty, who is actually a composite character based on several investigators who eventually caught Frank Abagnale. Hanks acknowledges the moral ambiguity of having the scoundrel, no matter how affable, as hero. "I think it is a very accurate reflection of the morality of the world," he said. "We have an interest in Carl Hanratty pursuing him and we're going to be involved in that chase; but not only are we rooting for Frank Abagnale, I think we fancy ourselves as Frank Abagnale. He's not hurting anybody. All he's doing is taking from the banks. All he's doing is cheating on his taxes. This is the way it seems as though our ethics have evolved to this point. By and large we hope the white collar guys get away with ripping off the big corporations. We don't want the corporations to get away with it, but we do want the average Joe to pass a bad check."

Catch Me If You Can also features Christoper Walken, Martin Sheen and French actress Nathalie Baye. It is filmed in vivid 1960s style by cinematographer Janusz Kaminski and the musical score is by another frequent Steven Spielberg collaborator, John Williams.

All photos courtesy DreamWorks Pictures