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Posts Tagged ‘Catch Me If You Can’

From the Hootoo archive. Originally published February 13th 2003:

[Originally following a review of Morvern Callar.]

Another young person with mendacity issues is the subject of Steven Spielberg’s Catch Me If You Can, but in this case the story is true. This is the story of Frank W. Abagnale Jr, who as a teenager earned a reputation as the most audacious conman in US history. He is played by Leonardo DiCaprio, who convincingly ages about twelve years in the course of the film.

Abagnale’s story would be dismissed as hopelessly farfetched were one to suggest it as a work of fiction: following a relatively normal childhood, the traumatic divorce of his parents led him to run away from home and begin a career as a passer of forged cheques. This in turn led to him successfully passing himself off as an airline pilot, a doctor and a lawyer (his Sean Connery impression is less convincing). Of course a lifestyle such as this, which eventually saw Abagnale fraudulently making millions of dollars, was bound to attract the attention of the authorities, and in Frank’s case nemesis takes the unlikely shape of dogged FBI investigator Carl Hanratty (Tom Hanks) who pursues him around America and the world, the two forming a strangely personal bond in the process…

With Spielberg, DiCaprio, and Hanks on board, expectations were obviously going to be high for this movie. And so I am delighted to report that Catch Me If You Can is an absolutely wonderful piece of entertainment, not too deep or heavy but just an expertly made, perfectly judged drama with comic overtones. Leo is much, much better here than he was in Gangs of New York: the combination of charm, bravado, and vulnerability which is his speciality is perfect for Frank. This is another example of a character that on paper seems like a nasty piece of work, but the deft script and Leo’s performance keep you feeling and rooting for him right up to the closing credits. And this makes Tom Hanks’ performance as Hanratty all the more impressive, as somehow he manages to remain equally sympathetic. This is mostly down to shrewd use of Hanks’ star persona, which as ever is largely composed of a hefty chunk of solid decency.

The two stars receive perfectly judged support from a great supporting cast. Christopher Walken plays Frank Sr., and to be fair to him he’s no less plausible as Leo’s dad than Liam Neeson, Gene Hackman or any of the other actors who’ve preceded him. He gives a subtle, affecting performance in a relatively small but pivotal role. Taking time off from showing Dubya how the President ought to behave, Martin Sheen is good as one of Frank’s dupes, and rising star Jennifer Garner (more on whom in next week’s column, fingers crossed) has a memorable cameo.

You can almost sense Spielberg relaxing and letting his hair down on this film, after the rather weightier and darker movies he’s made over the couple of years. He is the master entertainer of modern cinema and his storytelling here is virtually flawless: it’s moving, funny, and tense, with Frank’s strained relationship with his father clearly indicated as the trigger for his crimes. Not that they’re presented as such – there’s a sense of barely suppressed glee as each new scheme of Frank’s comes to fruition. The contrast between Leo’s playboy lifestyle and Hanratty’s much more humdrum existence is neatly evoked – at one point a night of passion for Leo is juxtaposed with a disastrous trip to the laundrette for his adversary. The nostalgic nature of the tale helps keep it light, something played up to by the excellent, retro-styled opening title sequence. John Williams does his usual sterling work on the score, even if bits of it sound suspiciously like parts of his music for Attack of the Clones.

Some films are unfairly dismissed in the eyes of certain critics simply because they’re intended as pieces of pure entertainment and I really think this is one of them. Superbly made in every respect, and enthralling from start to finish, Catch Me If You Can should stand as a career highlight for all involved. Unreservedly recommended.

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