Catch Me If You Can
In Steven Spielberg’s second film of 2002 Leonardo DiCaprio plays Frank Abagnale Jr., a 17-year-old boy who runs away from home when he fails to comprehend why his parents are getting a divorce. To procure money for his travels Frank tries and fails to cash a
number fake checks before he discovers that if he impersonates an airline pilot banks will not only cash his checks no questions asked, but hotels will let him stay for free and bill the airline company. Soon Frank is flying for free all over the country and ends up impersonating a doctor and a lawyer (as well as James Bond) and cashes over $1,000,000 is forged checks. Meanwhile the FBI’s top fraud agent Carl Hanratty (Tom Hanks) is trying to hunt Abagnale down and the two manage to form an uneasy liking for each other. Abagnale finally has a father figure trying everything in his power to take his interest in him, and Hanratty, who is not close to his daughter, gets to bond with a teenager her age.
Yeah, so most of the themes of Catch Me If You Can
are typical Spielberg broken-family-searches-for-lost/alternate-family hokum, but this time at least Spielberg doesn’t place it in the middle of a dinosaur thriller, or a Kubrick based chilly sci-fi epic. Catch Me
, set in the swinging sixties, gives a proper and thoughtful background to Abagnale’s shattered family life,
showing his fondness for his father (Christopher Walken in a touching straight role) and illustrates the Spielbergian, but understandable, basis for such a young man to go romping around the country impersonating people and stealing money. Both trouble with money and the amusement of living a lie are slyly written character flaws of Frank Sr., and despite Spielberg’s inherent need to unite the essentially father-less Frank Jr. (for Walken is financially crippled and lacks the drive to appreciate his son), and the essentially child-less Agent Hanratty, at least Abagnale’s troubled family background is given enough film space to breath and provide ample motivation. And it is good that Abagnale’s troubles are believable because for the most part Catch Me If You Can
is just a buoyant, fun little thriller to which Christopher Walken’s father figure provides a textured, if thin, richness.
Spielberg’s eye for exquisitely styled production values has been going up exponentially since his breakthrough A.I.: Artificial Intelligence
, and he has a field day with the setting of this film which takes place at a time when it was still damn cool to wear a pilot’s uniform and even cooler to sleep with the stewardesses. Both Hanks and DiCaprio are in the film element most suited for them, and this breezy comedy/chase
film is lovingly infused 60s style, from John Williams’ remarkable opening jazz theme (accompanied by a title sequence that out does the best of the extravagant 60s animated titles), to DiCaprio bagging a prostitute because he impersonates James Bond, to Hanks decked out in terrific rimmed glasses and black on black G-man FBI uniform, to Abagnale suavely convincing Martin Sheen (who plays the father of Frank’s love interest) that he is both a doctor and a lawyer. The best compliment one can pay Catch Me If You Can
is that its lengthy two and half hour running time feels more like 90 minutes within Spielberg’s wonderful homage to fun and funky 60s thrillers. The script is lengthy but sharp, Hanks and DiCaprio are in a niche that is well tailored for their acting limits, Williams has finally produced his first fun score in more than a decade, and with this film and Minority Report
Spielberg seems to have learned just how far detailed and stylish filmmaking can go for his films. It never makes the rip-roaringly clever statement on how monetary woes and constant lies can plague family life that it wants to, but Catch Me
bursts with energy and a light, fun wit that makes even Spielberg’s occasionally heavy handedness go down surprisingly smooth.