CATCH ME IF YOU CAN
***** (out of 5)
December 25, 2002
Leonardo DiCaprio as FRANK ABAGNALE, JR.
Tom Hanks as CARL HANRATTY
Christopher Walken as FRANK ABAGNALE, SR.
Nathalie Baye as PAULA ABAGNALE
Amy Adams as BRENDA STRONG
Martin Sheen as ROGER STRONG
Jennifer Garner as CHERYL ANN
Directed by: Steven Spielberg
BY KEVIN CARR
Steven Spielberg has been in a downward spiral recently. It wasn’t as bad as his downward spiral in the late-1980s and early 1990s when he put his name on every piece of crap that was released, like “*batteries not included” and “The Goonies.” However, with only lackluster performing sci-fi action films like “A.I.: Artificial Intelligence” and “Minority Report,” Spielberg was losing some ground.
“Catch Me If You Can” has the potential to bring him out of his slump the way “Jurassic Park” and “Schindler’s List” did in 1993.
One of the first things about “Catch Me If You Can” has that’s different from Spielberg’s previous two films is that its budget has been reduced to less than half of its predecessors. This is not to say that “Catch Me If You Can” is some micro-budget indie film (it topped off at $52 million, according to www.imdb.com), but this means it only has to make about $100 million total to make a profit (as opposed to the $300 or so million take home required for “A.I.” or “Minority Report”).
“Catch Me If You Can” tells the true story of Frank Abagnale, Jr. (Leonardo DiCaprio), who was one of the most successful check fraud artists in history. What makes Abagnale’s story so incredible is that he did most of his crimes (including writing several million dollars in fake checks and impersonating several honored professions) in his late teens.
After his family loses their house due to an IRS inquiry and his parent file for divorce, Frank runs away from home to make his fortune. Of course, he finds that it is sometimes easier to pretend to be someone (or something) rather than actually earn it, Frank begins a crime spree of identity fraud and grand larceny. He poses as an airline pilot, a pediatrician and a lawyer – and gets away with it…. mostly.
Throughout his life, Frank is pursued by FBI Special Agent Carl Hanratty (Tom Hanks) in the fraud cases. The movie opens with Hanratty extraditing Frank from a brutal French prison, so it is no big surprise that Frank is eventually apprehended. The real fun is watching it all play out on screen.
The real meat in “Catch Me If You Can” is Spielberg’s deliberate decision to not overly stylize the film. There are very few special effects, and the cinematography isn’t larger than the film itself. In fact, “Catch Me If You Can” is a very comfortable film that keeps the eye stimulated without beating the audience over the head with fancy effects and specialty shots.
The film takes place in the late 1960s and early 1970s with incredible production design that shows a not-so-distant authenticity that hasn’t been seen since “Apollo 13.” Even the clever opening sequence is throw-back to the animation style from the 1960s hits like “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World” and “The Pink Panther.”
One of the most underrated performances in the film comes from Amy Adams (possibly most recognizable as the slutty cheerleader from “Drop Dead Gorgeous”) as Brenda Strong, a candy-striper who falls in love with Frank while he was playing doctor. Adams has a perfect blend of high-school innocence and sexiness and expertly shows her skills as the young lover torn between her fiancé and the FBI. In fact, Adams outacts Jennifer Garner, who is making some buzz for a dayplayer role as model-turned-$1000 prostitute Cheryl Ann.
And, of course, Tom Hanks continues to shine as FBI check fraud investigator Hanratty. It is terrifying to think that James Gandolfini was originally slated for the role when Gore Verbinski (“The Mexican” and “The Ring”) was set to direct it. That’s one good thing you can say about “The Sopranos”: The show dragged Gandolfini back to TV to spare the public his crappy acting on the silver screen.
“Catch Me If You Can” is simply one of the best, most fun movies of the year.