Stranger Than Fiction: Frank Abagnale's True Crime Caper
Written: Apr 6, 2004
a Very Helpful Review
by the Epinions community
Pros:Purely amazing, in scope, energy, imagination and huevos.
Cons:A bit Johnny One Note, (but oh, what a Johnny)!
The Bottom Line: When they say "the youngest and most darling con man in [the] history" I most agree, though 100 more pages would be welcomed.
Although white collar crime dramas are not generally high on Hollywood's list of grist for the action-packed sort of thrillers that pump up our adrenaline or leave long lines at movie theaters and cinema-plexs in the same way a Heat or Silence Of The Lambs will grab you, the occasional, well-done screenplay, (stuff like The Sting, The Hot Rock or The Great Imposter), has me reaching for the original novel mighty quick.
Catch Me If You Can
Originally published in 1980, Catch is just such a novel of white collar crime, reminding me mightily of Tony Curtis' previous mentioned Imposter.
It also happens to true crime drama, a memoir if you will, of Frank Abagnale Jr's 1964-1968 incredible coast on the gullibility of suckers the world around.
Raised in the Bronx, N.Y., Frank claims his first minor brush with the law was the result of some bad and stupid company. Told with the assistance of a ghost writer, ,
all subsequent capers are laid to blame-directly or indirectly-on Frank's libido; his fascination with the fairer sex of truly satyric proportions.
Of course, the story is told in the first person, and the lengthy catalog of bunko/check kiting and impersonations hold, almost to every paragraph, a narcissistic procession of "me, my and I"s. But like moth to flame, (or mark to grifter), this didn't stop me from devouring the stranger than fiction tale in a couple large chunks.
The prose is also at times stilted with an odd, almost Victorian, mannered turn of phrase-considering it was penned in 1980-and occasionally smacks of self-consciously Thesarus-mined descriptors, a weakness, and excess, perhaps best laid to rest with the ghost writer.
Not a problem is the character-driven plot and pacing, which race pell mell across the entire U.S. and back, then down to Mexico, the continents of Europe and Asia, with brief dashes to Canada, South America and Africa thrown in.
What truly boggles the mind, was and still is, the fact Abagnale conducted his crime spree while both a high school dropout and through the relatively tender ages of 16-20. His graphic arts abilities, undeniable people skills and use of the pivotal talents of fine window dressing are aided and abetted by his obvious cleverness.
Though eventually caught, the chase is thrilling and often times peppered with incredible near misses-times when every branch of law enforcement, from NYC detectives, to Atlanta prison guards through D.C. FBI agents ate young Frank's dust.
Names and places have been changed, to protect the innocent and foolish alike. Characters and situations are sometimes composites, though always based on actual experiences and events. The fact that Dreamworks, among a half-dozen or more production companies, optioned Abagnale's tale, serves to reinforce its dual value as both entertainment with a touch of gee whiz, can you believe that, as well as cautionary tale.
Luckily for the reader, where the prose may lack effervescence, the story prevails, and I turned pages fasted than a Las Vegas black jack dealer shuffling shoes in my desire to follow the exploits of an undeniably fascinating rogue-a kid to young to be afraid, and too imaginative by half.
Altogether, the author estimates he suckered banks, hotels, airlines and more, of nearly 2.5 million dollars-a vast amount by mid 60's standards. The profusion of fine cars, expensive threads, gourmet meals, fancy digs and women, women, women proved scant balm for Abagnale's prodigious appetites-the stuff that fueled many an adolescent dream.
There is owning up to the basic criminal nature of all activities, and some brief and fairly insightful peeks into the factors that drove Frank and made it easier for him to rationalize his behaviors.
Especially harrowing, was time spent in a French prison: bread and water, a foul 5' x 5' x 5' stone pen, where a naked youth survived without a single basic amenity-much less showers, medical care, light, reading material, air conditioning or heat.
The story ends abruptly, with Frank's capture at the Canadian border, and a tacked on afterword sketches out only a bit of time spent in Federal custody, with a few paragraph's devoted to his involvement with the FBI, and own lucrative business, building upon his insider's knowledge of what security precautions are necessary to safeguard modern check writing, processing and cashing.
Final Thoughts and Recommendation
There is no Hanratty character, (played by Tom Hanks in the movie), but there does seem to be a parallel with O'Riley, the tough Fibbie blood hound, so often on the young grifter's trail.
I do think reading the book before seeing the film might have been a bit more satisfying, but overall, can see how
the brilliant screenplay gives a feel for the key elements of Frank Abagnale's enthralling tale.
The prose, as detailed above, rates 3 stars, as decent, workman-like, but overall stilted in feel. The plot and main characterization get a full 5 stars, as you will find yourself rooting for one of the most intriguing con men in the history of the game. Split the difference, call it 4 stars. Recommended, but be prepared for plenty of braggadocio and man-in-the-mirror soliloquy.
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