To succeed in this life, all you really need is confidence. No one is going to hire someone without confidence. Similarly, girls won’t go out with guys who don’t have confidence. And yet, if you say something with a deep conviction and confidence, there’s a chance you can get everyone else to believe it. This is where confidence (or “con” for short) can get you into trouble. If you can get enough people to believe something which will end with them giving you money, you can live pretty comfortably. However, this is considered fraud and, if you get caught, you’re liable to do some time in prison. This is why the genuinely successful con-men are regarded as artists of their craft: it takes real skill to not get caught in the web of lies. This week’s two films look at some successful con artists.
Catch Me if You Can
Length: 141 minutes / 2.35 hours
As many parents know, if you say something with confidence, your child will believe you. The real trick comes when your child has more confidence than you do and can convince you of many erroneous facts. While ignorance on the receiving end helps cement the lies of confidence, there’s something to the innocence of youth that helps pull off some complex cons. Of course, in situations like those portrayed in Paper Moon (1973), the child is often part of the con and not the one singularly running the scam. Take the case of Frank Abagnale Jr., a kid who ran away from home when he was only a teenager and managed to milk $2.8 million from a major airline. When it comes to such large amounts of money, the cons become more elaborate to remain hidden but often require a life on the run.
Some of the most successful con artists are the ones who perfect a persona and use it in different locales to make their money. While this requires a lot of moving around, what if your persona was of someone who frequently traveled anyway? What if you were a fake pilot? Frank (Leonardo DiCaprio) has run away from home and done just that. Posing as a pilot for Pan Am, he figured out a way to travel all across the country without actually flying a plane while also managing to rake in a paycheck. But one persona is not good enough for him. As soon as he adopts the personas of doctor and lawyer, this lands him in a relationship with Brenda Strong (Amy Adams). Unfortunately, Frank needs to keep running as Carl Hanratty (Tom Hanks) is always on his tail, trying to fulfill his duty as an FBI agent: stomping out the source of some significant fraud.
Length: 129 minutes / 2.15 hours
While the tale of Frank Abagnale Jr. is impressive, it’s actually quite rare. Most cons require multiple people to pull off. Whether it’s a handful like in Matchstick Men (2003), a small group like in The Italian Job (2003), or eleven in Ocean’s Eleven (1960/2001), the more people involved in the con make it easier to execute. It’s harder to discount the word of one person when it matches up with so many others. This adds credence to the lies. And yet, the more people you get to work on a con, the more ways the money has to be split, which is why many choose to only trust one other person for the job. Even though there have been many movies about heists (even more so in recent years, probably due to financial and economic difficulties), The Sting (1973) stands out as the best, having (legitimately) won an Oscar for Best Picture.
A con is only a good con if you don’t get caught. If someone finds out you conned them out of a lot of money, you’re going to have hell to pay. If that someone just happens to be a powerful mob boss, you don’t stand a chance. This is just such the case with Johnny “Kelly” Hooker (Robert Redford), who has managed to anger Doyle Lonnegan (Robert Shaw), a man who will kill to get his money back. Of course, Johnny not only runs away to Chicago, but he also looks up famous grifter Henry “Shaw” Gondorff (Paul Newman) to convince him to team up and go for all the money Lonnegan’s got. Since Henry is trying to hide from the FBI, he is hesitant to do something too big; but eventually, he agrees and pulls out one of the most elaborate cons ever: creating a fake horse racing betting house. It takes a lot of work, but will Lonnegan figure out he’s being played again, or are Johnny’s and Henry’s lives forfeit?
2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 classic cons