“…People only know what you tell them.”
Frank Abagnale, Jr. (Leonardo DiCaprio) leads a very busy life for a 19 year-old. He gets to be a doctor, a lawyer, a pilot, and continuously outsmarts Carl Hanratty (Tom Hanks), an FBI agent trying to stop the junior con artist in his tracks. His guises are so numerous and so convincing, however, that Carl may have to get creative in his pursuit.
Based on a true story, Frank Abagnale Jr. is a real guy. You know the drill; I don’t diagnose real people, even for fun. It’s a nurse thing. And an ethics thing. And a fear of lawsuits thing.
Frank is a really likeable guy; that’s the part about con artists that no one expects. He’s hardly ever the quiet kid or the “weird” kid; he’s usually the outgoing, funny, at least semi-popular guy. Con artists are charming; the very nature of their opportunistic occupation demands them to be charming. The other thing about Frank (which is hard to remember given that Leonardo DiCaprio is in this movie and he defies age) is that he is only 19 years old. He’s a kid. His brain is still developing (stops at age 26, y’all so go easy on that 21st birthday booze bender).
Like Charles Dickens over in The Man Who Invented Christmas, there are some daddy issues at play here. Heck, that reminds me…Happy Fathers’ Day! I lucked out in that department, actually. My dad is a truly wonderful guy. He earns that World’s Greatest Dad Mug every single day.
Anyway, Frank’s dad also seems truly wonderful. That is, little Frank idolizes his dad. He looks up to Dad’s ability to sweep the woman he loved off her feet; he loves that his dad seems to talk himself out of any awkward situation; and he loves that Dad can make any difficult problem lighter with a quick joke. It’s a hero worship relationship that leads Frank Jr. to solve problems the way he learned how to at home: Think outside the box, move fast, and use spunk to your advantage. Even with financial woes and relationship issues facing his father, Frank Jr. so admired his father the person that he seemed oblivious to the very adult consequences of living his lifestyle on the reg. This makes a lot of sense given that (let me re-emphasize)…Frank Jr. is just a kid.
Carl Hanratty was a smart guy and not solely because he was an FBI agent or because he was from Chicago. He understood the implications of a talented kid like Frank ending up in prison and decided to offer an alternative. Carl decided to let Frank help the FBI, something that benefitted everyone although it probably sounded like a crazy idea at the time. The story ends with Frank Abagnale Jr. working with the FBI to spot forgers and fraudsters, something he was naturally skilled at doing since he spent so much time doing it himself.
Not only was Carl astute to realize the age of the trickster and to consider that he might otherwise be a pretty great kid, but he gave the guy a shot at a real job and used his talents to the advantage of the good guys. In a sense, he acted as a secondary father figure to Frank Abagnale, Jr. because he gave him a chance to be himself and lead an honest life in the process.