Film No 19 (2014) : Catch me If You Can

catch meFrank Abagnale Jr is a real person. A man with a brilliant brain. He used his intelligence to master the forgery of bank cheques, getting his hands on over 2.5million fraudulent dollars! Combining this skill with his natural charm, Frank assumed a succession of false identities. ‘Catch me if You Can’ is a dramatization of his life and it’s one of my favourite films.

Leonardo DiCaprio plays Frank Jr, with Christopher Walken as Frank Abagnale Sr and Tom Hanks as Carl Hanratty, the FBI agent determined to corner the elusive trickster. Frank Jr starts learning his trade from his Dad, a failed businessman, who shows him how to blag free suit hire and a limousine for a trip to the bank manager. caprioWhen Frank Sr and his wife separate, Frank Jr is forced to change schools. On his first day of term, his formal clothes set him aside from his classmates. Rather than be made a laughing-stock, Frank pretends to be a supply teacher, taking lessons and setting work for his peers. He gets away with it for a while, which gives him the self-assurance to attempt bigger and better cons. So begins his career as an impersonator. Frank poses as a Pan-Am pilot, a doctor and a lawyer, not to mention a brief spell as a Special Branch officer. This disguise is so effective, it manages to deflect even Hanratty!

When you watch the film, you just can’t help marvelling at the blatant cheek of the guy! He succeeds in hood-winking the people around him through sheer effrontery and quick wits. He is clearly not a chump though; Hanratty is desperate to find out how Abagnale cheated his way into the American Bar – the answer is rather surprising. Actually, Frank does get his comeuppance, but there is a marvellous twist in the tale. Great film. Catch it if You Can.

Book No 15 (2014) : The Shock of the Fall

shockWell, everyone tries to read the big prize winners, don’t they? The ‘Shock of the Fall’ by Nathan Filer fought off the competition to take the 2013 Costa Book of the Year Prize.

Matthew Homes is a 19-year old schizophrenic and, as he points out: ‘I’m a mental patient, not an idiot’. Told in his own words, the book describes Matthew’s attempts to live within the confines that his illness places upon him. Desperate to get away from home, Matt takes on a flat with a friend, but the arrangement doesn’t work out. Left to live independently, his Nanny Noo comes to visit him every week, and the local care in the community support tries to engage Matthew and encourage compliance with his drug regime. Later, sectioned under the Mental Health Act, he spends time confined within a psychiatric ward. This unsettled existence is played out against the backdrop of an earlier incident in his life, when a fatal accident befalls Simon, Matthew’s younger brother. Simon’s voice, and the belief that the siblings are to be reunited, is the soundtrack of Matthew’s inner life.

Although the language used to narrate the book is accessible and typical of a young person, the underlying themes of the book are disturbing. Primary amongst these is the woeful inadequacy of the care offered to Matthew as a result of his illness. I noted that the author is himself a registered mental health nurse and that one of the book’s wardcritics was Jo Brand. Although well-known as a comedienne, Ms Brand’s former career was as a mental health nurse. Her positive endorsement of the book suggests that the descriptions of the time Matthew spends in ‘hospital’ must be indicative of the truth. The days are monotonous, there are no diversions, entertainment or stimuli and he is simply fed drugs at regular intervals. This condemnation of the ‘care’ system  is damning.

The ‘Shock of the Fall’ is not a comfortable work, but I recommend it. I couldn’t understand why it had overtaken Kate Atkinson’s ‘Life After Life’ in the Costa race – having read them both, I can now.