A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Catch Me if You Can is a 2002 Steven Spielberg crime biography based on a true story, in which Leonardo DiCaprio plays a teenage con artist who managed to convince people at various times that he was an airline pilot, a doctor, and a lawyer, while making and cashing forged checks all over the world. There's some mature material, including the fact that the main character is a con man who never considers the impact that his lies and scams may have or the risks he's taking until it wreaks havoc on his relationship with a woman he seems to honestly love, despite all his myriad false pretenses. It includes some non-explicit sexual situations and a negotiation with a call girl. A character says that her parents refuse to see her following her out-of-wedlock pregnancy and abortion. Characters drink and smoke and use strong language, including one instance of "f--k." The scene where Frank's parents tell him they're getting a divorce may be upsetting to some kids.
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What's the story?
Frank Abagnale Jr. ( Leonardo DiCaprio) adores his parents. His father (Christopher Walken) relies on using an angle to get what he wants and employs his teen son in his scams. But eventually he gets the family into serious financial trouble. When Frank is 16, his parents get divorced, and he's told to choose which one he will live with. He can't handle it and he runs away. Like a child, he thinks he can recreate the perfect world he once thought he had. But he has one very un-childlike quality: an astonishing eye for detail. Combined with the charm and panache he learned from his father, the ability to appear innocent to give him apparent credibility and -- just as important -- youthful fearless (he just doesn't know how outrageous his scams are), he becomes one of the most successful con men in history. Before he is imprisoned in France, he manages to pass himself off as a pilot, a doctor, and a lawyer. He also manages to pass off bad checks worth over $4 million.
Is it any good?
Part period piece, part chase film, part drama, Steven Spielberg's movie about the youngest person ever to make the FBI's 10 Most Wanted List is terrifically entertaining. It's set in the candy-colored ring-a-ding 1960s where jet pilots were glamorous and even bank tellers in big cities had a small-town belief in the honesty of someone cashing a check, especially if he had a charming smile. This is the 1960s of big hair, smooth surfaces, and bikinis, fueled by martini music like Sinatra's "Come Fly with Me."
Every single element of this movie works brilliantly together and the result is as irresistible as its con man hero. The screenplay by Jeff Nathanson (based on Abagnale's book) is excellent, as crafty as its subject and with just the right touch of heart. Tom Hanks, as the FBI agent who chases, admires, and ultimately inspires Frank, makes each moment on-screen a small masterpiece. DiCaprio captures us from his first moment as an awkward 13-year-old to his sheer pleasure in his own ability to master the adult world.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the different ways Frank and Hanratty felt about each other at different times. How were Frank Sr. and Hanratty like opposing father figures in Frank's life?
What are the challenges in making a movie inspired by actual events? Where do you think the movie heightened the action, drama, and tension for the sake of making the movie more engaging, even if it wasn't exactly what really happened?
Do you think this movie glamorizes the misdeeds of Frank Abagnale Jr.? What are some other examples of movies in which outlaws or antiheroes seem to earn a kind of respect and admiration due to the audacity of their actions and their gifts at escaping from authority? What do you see as the appeal in movies centered on characters like these?
- In theaters: December 25, 2002
- On DVD or streaming: May 6, 2003
- Cast: Christopher Walken, Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hanks
- Director: Steven Spielberg
- Studio: DreamWorks
- Genre: Drama
- Run time: 141 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: some sexual content and brief language
- Last updated: September 20, 2019
For kids who love true stories
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