Sunday, December 18, 2011

Review: DiCaprio, Hanks Catch Fire in "Catch Me if You Can" (Happy B'day, Steven Spielberg)

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 96 (of 2003) by Leroy Douresseaux

Catch Me if You Can (2002)
Running time: 141 minutes (2 hours, 21 minutes)
MPAA – PG-13 for some sexual content and brief language
DIRECTOR: Steven Spielberg
WRITER: Jeff Nathanson (based upon the book Catch Me If You Can: The Amazing True Story of the Youngest and Most Daring Con Man in the History of Fun and Profit by Frank W. Abagnale and Stan Redding
PRODUCERS: Walter F. Parkes and Steven Spielberg
EDITOR: Michael Kahn
COMPOSER: John Williams
Academy Award nominee


Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hanks, Christopher Walken, Martin Sheen, Nathalie Baye, James Brolin, Amy Adams, Nancy Lenehan, Ellen Pompeo, and Jennifer Garner

Steven Spielberg had two directorial works theatrically released in 2002. The first was the fantastic Minority Report (ahead of its time, perhaps), and the second was a box office smash that didn’t really feature any obvious directorial flourishes, Catch Me if You Can. It was as if Spielberg backed off a little (he wasn’t even among the top choices to direct this film), and let the film take a life of its own. Though plagued by a few scenes that could have been excluded (including one by the overrated and unattractive Jennifer Garner), it’s a very good film that relies not so much on the director or even on the intriguing tale (which is based upon a true story), but rather on the talents of its cast, in particular Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hanks, and Christopher Walken.

When his parents’ financial security evaporates and causes their marriage to go kaput, 17-year old Frank Abagnale, Jr. (Leonardo DiCaprio) comes up with a way to get his father Frank, Sr. (Christopher Walken) flush in paper again. He becomes a successful con artist, managing to pass himself off as several identities, in particular as an airline pilot, a physician, and an attorney. However, it is his ingenious check fraud schemes that draw the attention of a relentless FBI agent, Carl Hanratty (Tom Hanks), who begins a cross-country and trans-Atlantic chase to catch Frank, Jr.

Walken gives a very deep and heartfelt performance as Frank Sr., a man beset by the Internal Revenue Service and marital woes. Tom Hanks is dead on as the determined and stoic G-Man, Hanratty, whose dogged search belies his simple need to bring order where fraud creates chaos. Hank plays the agent as a persistent and by the book official who actually has a wry sense of humor; you have to watch carefully to catch the humor. DiCaprio’s Frank, Jr. is, on the surface, a one-note character, but the actor plays much of the young con beneath the surface. Frank succeeds as a confidence man simply because of his measured self-control. A con survives by not breaking each time he encounters something that threatens to spoil the con game. DiCaprio’s Frank is the legal opposite of Hank’s Hanratty, but, otherwise, they’re about the same in personality. Their insistence to do what they have to do keeps them going. A viewer can’t read that in the script. He has to read that in the actors’ performances: physical and facial and subtly verbal. This is the work of two artists.

Catch Me if You Can waffles between being a drama and comedy while really being neither. It’s not a great film; the set up to Frank’s life of crime is overly long and occasionally dull. Still, Catch Me if You Can is a very good and tremendously entertaining work in which the actors outplay all the other elements of the film. Nothing wrong with that – you can get a fine moving picture when great actors can get to do what they do so well and do it with relative ease.

7 of 10

2003 Academy Awards: 2 nominations: “Best Actor in a Supporting Role” (Christopher Walken) and “Best Music, Original Score” (John Williams)

2003 BAFTA Awards: 1 win: “Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role” (Christopher Walken); 3 nominations: “Anthony Asquith Award for Film Music” (John Williams), “Best Costume Design” (Mary Zophres), and “Best Screenplay – Adapted” (Jeff Nathanson)

2003 Golden Globes: 1 nomination: “Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama” (Leonardo DiCaprio)


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