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File:Catch me if you can.jpg

Steven Spielberg film based on the life of the teenage con artist Frank Abagnale Jr. who managed to pass himself off as an airline pilot, a doctor and a lawyer while he was still too young to drink. It stars Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hanks and Christopher Walken. Based on a True Story, and the real Frank Abagnale Jr. was on hand as a consultant and was enthusiastic about its production.

Tropes used in Catch Me If You Can include:


  • Abusive Parents: Frank's parents are actually very supportive of their son, but his father engages in emotional abuse in one of his last scenes. Frank has been trying to stop his criminal lifestyle for a while now, but can't go through with it until his father tell him that it's alright to do so. Instead Frank Sr. refuses and tries to use his son as a weapon against the government because they didn't support him when his business went under. Note that this did not happen in real life; see Very Loosely Based on a True Story below.
  • Actor Allusion: When Tom Hanks' character is closing in at the engagement party, a dollar bill slips under the bedroom door and floats by him, just like a certain feather.
  • Anachronic Order
  • A-Team Montage
  • Anti-Hero: Frank Abagnale Jr.
  • Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking / I Take Offense to That Last One: Frank confesses to Brenda he's not a doctor, lawyer, or a Lutheran and he's actually a young run-away; her response- "You're not a Lutheran?"
  • Artistic Title: See Pastiche below.
  • Bavarian Fire Drill: Half of the cons.
  • Black and White Morality: This is what Hanratty firmly believes in until he discovers that Frank is redeemable.
  • Boxed Crook
  • Brick Joke: After Hanratty's boss chews him out and clearly gets on Hanratty's nerves, Hanratty references his previous Precision F-Strike by going "Chief? Knock Knock."
  • Briefcase Full of Money
  • The Casanova: Frank Jr.
  • Chew Out Fake Out: Frank Sr.'s response on finding out that Frank Jr. has been teaching his French class is just to smirk and laugh that his boy had the balls to do it.
  • Composite Character: Carl Hanratty, mostly based off of former FBI agent Joe Shea.
    • Brenda was a combination of two different girlfriends from the original memoirs.
  • The Con
  • Criminal Mind Games: Played with, as Frank calls Hanratty yearly at Christmas not to taunt him, but because of crushing loneliness.
  • Cut Lex Luthor a Check: Frank eventually gave up the life of crime and discovered he could make more money as a fraud consultant.
  • Dawson Casting: Frank ages from 16 to his early twenties over the course of the film; he was played by a 27-year-old Leonardo DiCaprio. Justified in that the real Frank Abagnale looked older than his age, which was how he got away with many of his scams. And that's invoked in-movie; Hanratty's initial profiling of Abagnale after their first encounter includes being age 26-30.
  • Distracted by the Sexy: How Frank gave the entire FBI the slip at Miami Airport. Just get in the middle of a group of (wanna-be) stewardesses, and you're invisible!
  • Freudian Excuse: Frank comes from a broken home and he ran away since he couldn't deal with choosing one parent over the other.
    • Averted in the book. Abagnale says he had a hard time when his parents divorced, but he also says more than once that it's no excuse for his crimes, and most other children from "broken homes" don't become con artists.
  • Friendly Enemy: Frank Abagnale Jr. and Carl Hanratty. It's done in an interesting way early on. Frank calls Carl to apologize for the fact that Carl has to deal with his crimes. He's being totally sincere, but Carl just thinks he's mocking him. It's one of the many things in the movie that show that while Frank may be a criminal mastermind, he's ultimately just a kid.
  • Good for Bad: As a paper hanger, this is Frank's MO, exchanging worthless checks for money and services. The technique is most visibly used when Frank scams a model/hooker, swapping a phony check for the partial amount in cash, "paying" for a full night of fulfilling a high school fantasy.
  • Good Girls Avoid Abortion: Averted with Brenda.
  • High School Hustler --> Con Man: Goes from pretending to be a teacher to get back at some bullies at his school, to conning millions of dollars.
  • How We Got Here
  • I Never Said It Was Poison: "I never said your son was a criminal. I said he was in trouble."
  • It's for a Book: More like It's For A School Newspaper Article.
  • Knock-Knock Joke: Hanratty has a splendid one after his new assistants show disdain over Hanratty's serious nature.

 Carl: Well, would you like to hear me tell a joke?

His subordinate: Yeah, we'd love to hear you tell a joke.

Carl: Knock knock.

His subordinant: Who's there?

Carl: (Beat) Go fuck yourselves.

  Judge: There is no defense, there is no jury. It's just me. Son, what in the hell is wrong with you?

  • Precision F-Strike: Two words: "knock knock."
  • Pretty in Mink: Jennifer Garner's scene had her in a mink jacket.
  • Real Person Cameo: The real Frank Abagnale plays one of the French police officers that finally capture Frank.
  • Record Needle Scratch: We hear one in-universe when Frank comes back to the apartment while his mother is entertaining her new lover.
  • Reformed Criminal: Frank, at the end of the movie.
  • Refuge in Audacity: The other half of the cons.
  • Running Gag: "Two little mice..."
    • "Even better."
  • Sarcastic Confession: Frank admits to Brenda's father that he's not a doctor, a lawyer, a pilot or anything else. He interprets it as Frank being completely in love with Brenda.
    • Depending on how you see it Frank was not being sarcastic at all in the situation. He either really wanted to confess his complicated situation to a father figure, he is just a kid after all and is implied to be incredibly lonely. Or he did it because he was already missing the thrill of being 'almost caught'. If this is the case, it might be more of a One Dialogue, Two Conversations kind of situation.
  • Sexy Stewardess: To complete his impersonation of an airline pilot, Frank hires pretty young women to pose as flight attendants.
  • Sherlock Scan: A non-visual example in Hanratty being able to discern clues of Frank's whereabouts from his telephone calls; e.g. he figures out Frank's from New York from his mention of the Yankees, and that he's a kid from his use of the alias Barry Allen.
  • The Seventies: The last fifteen or so minutes of the film.
  • The Sixties: The majority of the film.
  • Shout-Out: The dollar floating under the door and fluttering like a feather past Tom Hanks is a nod to Forrest Gump.
  • Star-Making Role: Oddly averted for Amy Adams, who despite being prominently featured as Frank's girlfriend had to wait until Enchanted some years later to become an A-lister.
    • And Spielberg actually cast her in order to make that star, and said he was crushed when her career didn't take off immediately. But her career got better, so it all worked out in the end.
  • Sympathetic Inspector Antagonist: Agent Carl Hanratty.
  • Teen Genius: Frank.
  • Themed Aliases: Frank uses the names of comic book characters as aliases.
  • Title Drop: Sort of. "You gotta catch me."
  • To Tell the Truth: The real Frank Abagnale, Jr. appeared on an episode of this show. The movie is framed by actual episode footage of this appearence with DiCaprio digitally inserted into Abagnale's place.
  • Troubled but Cute: Well, he's played by Leonardo DiCaprio, isn't he?
    • And Aaron Tveit
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: Besides throwing in the Freudian Excuse for Frank becoming a con-artist and counterfeiter, many details from Frank Abagnale Jr.'s life were altered or added in the film. For instance, Frank is shown as an only child, when in real life, he had three other siblings. But most notably, Frank Jr. is depicted reaching out to his father in-between cons, whereas the actual Frank Jr. never saw or spoke with his father again after leaving home. This drastically changes Frank's motivation in the film: his relationship with his father is portrayed as having been so close that he can only stop his criminal lifestyle if his father wants him to; instead his father (still embittered over the lack of support he received when his business went under) refuses and uses his son as a weapon to get back at the government. In reality no such thing happened of course - Frank continued simply because he was good at it, and because it was preferable to getting a hard-working job or going to jail.
    • Frank's quasi-friendship with Carl while Frank is on the run is entirely invented, although Frank and the agent who was chasing him did become friends after Frank was released from prison.
    • He certainly didn't escape from the plane they way they show it in the film. For one thing the septic tank on airplanes rarely detours into the luggage area.
    • In his memoir Frank claims to have done exactly that (escaped out an airplane toilet). Of course his memoir might have been Very Loosely Based on a True Story as well. In the memoir, he had flown back to the United States on a Vickers VC10, the toilet unit lifts out, so he could have escaped.
    • Frank was not finally caught in France by any cunning FBI work. What actually happened was that after he had gone to ground in a small village, he was spotted by a Pan Am stewardess on vacation, who notified the police.
  • What Do You Mean Its Not Symbolic: When Frank first starts his cons, he's shown pressing a check in a hotel Bible; also all of the scenes set at Christmas time.
  • Younger Than They Look: A key factor in how Abagnale was able to pull of his scams.
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