“Catch me if you can”, on W9: the dream lives of a young and prodigious champion of imposture


In one of these tubular corridors which connect the airport halls to the terminals, a man walks towards the camera. Dressed in a captain’s uniform, he is strikingly elegant. Behind him, someone is talking incessantly. In a poorly cut dark suit, the shadow lectures the aviator, to prevent him from getting on the plane, to cut his wings.

In this detective comedy, Steven Spielberg distills the essence of the relationship between the film’s two protagonists, Frank Abagnale (Leonardo DiCaprio) and special agent Carl Hanratty (Tom Hanks): the first takes center stage, but his domination is an illusion, dazzling and vulnerable. Vulnerable to the law, to the norm embodied by the silhouette of Tom Hanks, whose words are transformed not into mirages, but into facts.

Catch Me If You Can continues, between the intoxication of speed and violent nostalgia, this exploration of the nooks and crannies of the American family which marks most of Spielberg’s films since Sugarland Express (1974). Each shot is irrigated with a childish pleasure in resurrecting the aesthetic of the 1960s. Tom Hanks draws to the bottom of his reservoir of banality. Leonardo DiCaprio’s handsome face seems designed for the most convincing lies. Inspired by the autobiography of the conman Frank Abagnale, this story of a very young boy who becomes a genius of fraud after the separation of his parents is quite different.

No founding check

Frank is a child of war, literally. Her father (Christopher Walken) brought Paula (Nathalie Baye) back from France. We are on the cusp of the 1960s, at a time when the American dream is blossoming for everyone. Not for the Abagnales. Frank senior is caught in a double trap: a stationer, he would like to maintain his rank as a notable in his small town in New Jersey. A family man, he would like to live up to the fantasies imposed on an American male by the mere idea of having married a French woman. But the stationery industry is crumbling under pressure from the tax authorities, and the Frenchwoman is as fickle as her reputation dictates.

Frank Jr escapes into fiction. After some trial and error, he finds his favorite instrument, the bad check, and his modus operandi, professional imposture. To transform himself into an airline pilot, a doctor, a lawyer, he has a supremely effective weapon at his disposal: television.

All he has to do is watch an episode of Dr. Kildare to know how to behave in the operating room. To win in front of a courtroom, he follows in the footsteps of Perry Mason, as played on a very small grayish screen by Raymond Burr. Nourished by this fiction without much taste or substance, and yet which has left an indelible mark on the retinas of a generation, Frank Abagnale and Steven Spielberg are having fun like crazy.

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