Catch Me If You Can (2002)

catch_me_if_you_can_posterTo those who have said in the past that Spielberg, my hero, has lost it as a filmmaker, here’s mud in your eye. With his two most recent films (the great “Minority Report” which received mixed reviews, and the sub-par “AI: Artificial Intelligence” which bombed at the box-office) that weren’t up to his quality Spielberg comes out swinging with this breezy and light dramedy based on the book about real life con man and bank robber Frank Abagnale Jr., a man who before he was 18 made his way forging checks from Pan Am airlines, worked as a pilot, worked as a doctor, and then a lawyer leaving the authorities one step behind him until he was caught. This isn’t a love child of Spielberg who usually takes a personal investment in his many films with his tailoring and presence in the background but the quality isn’t diminished. The quality is in fact plentiful and flourishes throughout the entire length of the film.

There’s no philosophical delving, there’s no emotionally wrenching moments, and it doesn’t try to save the world with a message of right and wrong, it’s simply a tale of a young man who ingeniously eluded the authorities for nearly five years. It doesn’t become hard to believe that Frank Jr. would inevitably turn into a con man as we watch his father Frank Sr. played by the likable multi-faceted Christopher Walken who earned and Oscar Nomination. Frank Sr. is a con-man, a smooth talker but fails to talk his way out of the FBI whom he owes taxes to. When he and his wife divorce, Frank Abagnale runs away and begins conning his way into loads upon loads of money. Leonardo Dicaprio who’s made a career out of portraying grim and troubled characters in the excellent “This Boy’s Life”, and as the mentally disabled Arnie in “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?” manages to completely absorb the character of Frank Abagnale Jr. and turns into a suave and very charming character who often schemes his way through people with many very close calls and coincidences.

His first con, which is very funny, is when he pretends to be substitute teacher at his new school and humiliates a Jock who humiliated him. Jack’s father doesn’t scold him nor does he even try to stop him, but simply laughs in amusement. Frank Jr. is an interesting character who possesses a contradictory image; he can easily be mistaken as a young man or as an older man which help to increase his believability in cons. On his tail is Agent Carl Hanratty who begins to track him down and chase him across country. Spielberg favorite and prolific actor Tom Hanks (Saving Private Ryan, Philadelphia) takes on the hilarious role of uptight Agent Hanratty; Hanks who pretty much left his comedic past behind when he made his turn into drama shows instances in the film of his great comedic timing as he’s forced to capture Abagnale while being ridiculed in his own organization.

There’s a truly great running gag in the film with the character Hanratty’s “knock knock” joke that you’ll have to see for yourself that he constantly gets people with. The film’s cat and mouse tone is great with a sleek and light-hearted motif that helps the film become very entertaining; I was entertained from beginning to end as the film jumps from present day to Abagnale Jr. as a caught convict being shipped to a US prison to the past where he made his cons and ran from the FBI. There are some ingenious methods he creates when forging checks and working on his cons and occasionally there are some instances when he’s in over his head. Most notably there is the scene where he masquerades as an emergency room doctor and is forced to analyze a young boy with bad wounds on his legs from an accident. The expression on DiCaprio’s face as he’s forced to examine the boy while keeping his disgust in check is priceless and its followed by him immediately vomiting in the hospital bathroom; brilliant and hilarious.

Also, while in the hospital he befriends a braces bearing emotional young nurse named Brenda (Amy Adams: Cruel Intentions 2, Serving Sara) who is well played by Amy Adams with great comedic timing. Abagnale manages to fall for her and becomes engaged to her and meets her parents (Martin Sheen, Nathalie Baye) and experiences another close call that displays his knack for improvisation. When the father Roger begins grilling Frank on his career, Frank immediately answers that he’s a lawyer as well and makes the mistake of saying he came from Berkely College which happens to be Roger’s. Roger quickly begins interrogating him asking about a legendry professor to which Frank replies with agreement, but when Roger asks about the professor’s dog and its name to which Frank quickly realizes that being since Roger has a thirty year advance on him replies with “Well, the dog was dead.” This in turn may be a lie but a truthful lie. would have appreciated a little more emotional attachment towards the characters and unfortunately such a hope is lost within the course of viewing the story and actions taking place.

This is an often shallow and repetitive film with no real depth underneath the bright scenery and goofy action that ensues between the characters. I would have liked a lot more emphasis on the Abagnale Jr./Sr. relationship and Abagnale Jr.’s motive towards his conning on whether it was to gain approval from his father or bring he and his mom back together from their divorce. Though it’s broadly touched upon during the course of the story, it’s never truly verified to the audience. We also never get the sense that Abagnale Jr.’s actions are even affecting people whom he steals from and dupes. Though we get some of the sense in the character Brenda as he inevitably abandons her, we’re never given a message that the conning hurt more than it helped him and almost romanticizes it and makes it look way too easy. That said, the film is an enjoyable crime caper with a straight forward premise that doesn’t get bogged down in emotions and sentimentality. There are no character set-ups and the character emphases are only touched on during the action.

Spielberg gives a great job of directing a believably authentic film set during the sixties and is helped by the excellent grade A score by the legendry John Williams who fuels the film with a classic score reminiscent of classic capers of the Cinema. The character Hanratty has nothing to lose; his wife left him and he barely sees his children so the pursuit of Abagnale Jr. is basically all he has, Abagnale is at the top of his game but has no one to share it with and basically is unappreciated constantly seeking attention from his father and everyone else but realizes that the only people giving him the attention he craves are the people who want to arrest him, Hanratty and Abagnale pursuing each other with a battle of wits and the inevitable confrontation is truly good and pays off all the way until the end becoming very exciting. With excellent performances from a top shelf cast of actors, an exciting fun story, and incredible direction from Spielberg, “Catch me if you Can” is a truly excellent, action packed, and funny crime caper to sit through.