Catch Me If You Can
Leonardo DiCaprio is back
in the limelight. After struggling for years with how to follow up the
Titanic success, he pops into theaters this Christmas as the star of Martin
Scorsese's monster New York epic and Steven Spielberg's breezy '60s flick.
You might say that Catch Me If You an marks a return for Spielberg
as well. After the darkness of movies like Minority Report, A.I.,
and Saving Private Ryan, Spielberg is back with straight, good-time
entertainment. And let's be honest--few do that better. Helping Leo and
Steven is Midas-touch man Tom Hanks. How could this go wrong?
For the first 90 minutes,
nothing goes wrong. Starting with the beautiful opening credits, which
are reminiscent of those stylish '60s thrillers, the
movie sets the stage for
a smashing good time. We're introduced to Frank Abagnale, Jr. (DiCaprio),
who we learn was arrested in 1969 for
a pilot, a pediatrician, and a lawyer all before the age of 21. Along the
way, he also forged over $4 million in phony
Then we skip back to 1964
where it all started. Frank is a doting teenager living in an idyllic Long
Island town. His father (played with great
panache by Christopher Walken)
is a legend in his son's eyes, even after he's forced to sell his car and
house to pay off the I.R.S. Frank's mother (Nathalie Baye), who's
not used to living in meager surroundings, files for divorce, and suddenly
Frank's life goes up in smoke. He's not ready to give up, though, and he
convinces himself that, if he can be a success and make some money, he
can get his parents back together. How will a 16-year-old do that? By running
away and impersonating a Pan Am pilot, of course.
The appeal of Catch Me
If You Can is that DiCaprio and Spielberg make that seem entirely plausible.
It helps that this is inspired by a true story;
but even if it wasn't, I
think the audience would still play along. The charm Leo displayed in Titanic
is on full wattage, and when he flashes that
smile at a pretty bank teller,
you just know she's going to cash that forged check. And when Abagnale
asks her to show him how the check routing numbers work, well why shouldn't
she tell him?
Of course, every hero needs
an antagonist, and in this case it's the straight-laced FBI man Carl Hanratty
(Tom Hanks). Hanratty sniffs out the
fraud pretty early, but
he doesn't count on a young kid being responsible. When the two meet up
early in the movie, Frank pulls the wool over Carl's eyes so badly it's
fantastic to behold. After that, the chase is on. Hanratty isn't about
to give up, and Abagnale doesn't have any choice but
to keep on running.
Spielberg keeps the movie
clicking along, the production design is beautifully slick, and the acting
is, as you might expect, top notch. Special kudos go out to Walken and
Hanks. Walken is fantastic every time he's on screen, and his scenes with
DiCaprio are fantastic portrayals of
how a father and son interact.
Hanks deserves special mention for not trying to soften his character's
hard edge, and a scene near the movie's
end has a reaction shot
that might be my favorite of the year. I'm not sure if the Cult of Leo
will reach titanic proportions, but he stands a good
chance of setting some hearts
With all that Catch Me
If You Can has going for it, the movie still lags in the second act.
And that is a direct result of Spielberg's inane decision
to give the ending away.
It's as if someone had told us early on in Casablanca that Ingrid Bergman
was going to get safely out of town but not
with Humphrey Bogart. Once
you know how the pieces fall, all that tension and interest is drained
out of the film, and you spend most of your time just waiting for the inevitable.
This trend of starting at
the conclusion of the story and then flipping back to the beginning has
been growing in recent years, and I can't for the
life of me figure out why.
Why give the entire game away? Does the movie gain anything by that? Rarely,
and only if the movie has larger concerns. But Catch Me If You Can
isn't some deep treatise on the nature of the human condition. It's a slick
little chase movie, with two huge stars having a grand time. And so would
we in the audience if we could play along; but instead we reach the ninety-minute
mark, and we already know what the next thirty minutes hold. No matter
how good looking you think Leo is, there's just not enough to keep your
interest. The denouement is somewhat compelling (father figures play a
large role--no surprise there), but I was still missing the energy of that
first hour. Despite Spielberg's return to his earlier style, this one feels
like his most recent fare--entertaining but flawed.
by J. Robert Parks 12/21/2002