Catch Me If You Can (2002)
Release Date: December 25th, 2002 MPAA Rating: PG-13
Director: Steven Spielberg Actors: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hanks, Christopher Walken, Martin Sheen, Nathalie Baye, Amy Adams, James Brolin, Jennifer Garner, Ellen Pompeo, Elizabeth Banks, Kaitlin Doubleday
nspired by the true story of Frank Abagnale, this stranger-than-fiction tale of a con artist extraordinaire magnificently comes to life in Steven Spielberg’s “Catch Me If You Can.” Directed with finesse and riddled with accomplished actors, this thrilling, humorous, feel-good crime drama reminds audiences that while crime shouldn’t pay, occasionally it does – especially when a combination of intelligence and charm is manifested in the form of Leonardo DiCaprio. Ironically, crime-fighting does not pay, as evidenced by the time-draining obsessions of detectives intent on catching their prey.
Frank Abagnale Jr. (Leonardo DiCaprio) grew up encouraged by his father’s sneaky tactics and master trickery. Through much of his early years, Frank posed as a substitute English teacher to avoid being just another student. He always had a knack for impersonation and forgery, so when his parents go through a rough divorce, he runs away from home at the age of 16. He immediately begins writing fraudulent checks for easy cash and, while posing as a reporter for a high school, he learns how to fake airline checks – initiating a scam for millions of dollars, all before his 19th birthday.
Going to the extent of posing as a Pan Am pilot, Frank finds himself getting free flights and the admiration and respect he so greatly desires. When FBI agent Carl Hanratty (Tom Hanks) catches up to Frank’s trail of fakery, the cunning young man decides to impersonate a doctor. Fabricating a degree and every other document he needs, he’s hired as an overnight ER supervisor. Eventually, he even impersonates a lawyer and passes the bar exam! As Hanratty closes in, Frank realizes that despite his riches and a pursuit of romance (Amy Adams as Brenda), he is ultimately alone in his world of lies and deceit.
“An honest man has nothing to fear,” insists Frank’s procrastinating father, played with idiosyncratic aplomb by Christopher Walken. It’s an interesting bit of advice, considering honesty seems to be the furthest friend to Frank. But duplicity is not without a price. Frank manages to take over $4 million during his years of counterfeiting, but must sacrifice freedom, family, and friends in the process. He even resorts to calling his nemesis Hanratty on Christmas each year, as he has no one else to talk to. Perhaps subconsciously, he wants to be caught, simply to put an end to the escalating fear of capture and irreversible damages. During a final talk with his father, Frank regretfully realizes that this reprehensible role model (a man whom he has always attempted to impress) actually approves of his behavior.
As could only seem feasible in a “based on a true story” premise, the FBI has great difficulty tracking down their man because he’s so young. With little experience in worldly matters, Frank uses James Bond films to coach his style of dress and Perry Mason reruns to study up on imitating a lawyer. He’s incredibly quick-witted and shrewd, especially when backed into a corner, managing to get out of every situation by composing intricate stories on the fly. He proves, most satisfyingly to film critics, that one can learn anything by watching movies.
As finishing touches, John Williams contributes an absolutely stunning score; Tom Hanks pulls off an awkward accent; Walken delivers an emotional performance, even with his stilted deliveries; and DiCaprio shines as the surprisingly likeable crook. Though a lengthy 141 minutes, the lighthearted tone and smart pacing allow for unwavering entertainment, plenty of natural humor, and Spielberg’s knack for sympathizing with antiheroes. It’s not one of the director’s most notable projects, but it nevertheless demonstrates his affinity for selecting and adapting crowd-pleasing material.
– Mike Massie