One of the most likable Steven Spielberg films in ages, Catch Me If You Can is a stylish, confident comedy filled with adventure and originality. Here we see the story of Frank Abagnale Jr. — the brilliant conman who practiced medicine without attending medical school, passed as a Pan Am pilot without attending flight school, and practiced law with absolutely no law degree. This was all accomplished before the age of 19, might I add. The story is simply too absurd to have been developed from the mind of any screenwriter. Utilizing 1960’s-like animated credit titles, the film establishes a style, tempo, and time period from the start. It brings to life the lightheartedness of the film. With incredible music by John Williams, it sets the audience up for an exciting and charming ride.
Like most Spielberg characters, Frank (Leonardo DiCaprio) comes from a broken home. In the beginning of the film we see the lavish, comfortable lifestyle of the Abagnale family. Frank Abagnale Sr. (Christopher Walken) is being presented with a prestigious award within his social circle. Walken and DiCaprio as the father-son combination is a match made in heaven. The chemistry between the two actors is mesmerizing — with Walken giving one of his strongest and most touching performances to date. The actors seem to share the same gene in being able to fully engulf themselves into any character-driven role. As the film goes on, the family is forced to leave their huge home for a small apartment in the city. Frank Sr. hasn’t been paying his taxes, and the IRS is at his throat. He tries to charm and connive his way into getting loans with the bank. All the while, his boy Frank watches in amazement. His wife Paula (Nathalie Baye) walks out on the family — as she’s been cheating on her husband for quite some time. She wants a lifestyle her husband can no longer afford. Frank, not being able to choose whom he should live with after the divorce, decides to run away.
From the very beginning, Abagnale seems to succeed at every incredible impersonation with the simple act of never trying overly hard. Did he learn this from his dad? Probably. DiCaprio played mostly troubled characters before this film (Gangs of New York, The Beach). However in this piece, he’s charming and relaxed — essentially playing a young boy who discovers what he’s really good at. The 28-year-old actor at the time melts into the body of a precocious teenager, understanding that Frank is a wounded boy filled with bouts of insecurity and panic. Frank’s goal is to regain the standard of living lost by his father and presumes that with enough money he will be able to reunite his family once again. Morals aside, one can’t help but root for him. DiCaprio remains in touch with his childish desperation through it all. As a result, his performance is incredibly sincere. The movie co-stars Tom Hanks as Carl Hanratty, an FBI agent whose sole mission in life is to capture Abagnale at any cost.
As the only person with a complete comprehensive analysis of Frank’s versatility, Hanratty develops a respect for his criminal talent. In a scene where Carl actually has Frank at gunpoint (having chased his fraudulent checks to Los Angeles), Frank thinks fast and starts impersonating a Secret Service agent on the same job as Carl. Having convinced Carl of his identity, he once again escapes right from under him. An actor only as talented as Hanks could portray Hanratty as Frank’s surrogate father, and by the end of the film have their relationship come to fruition. He doesn’t want to put him in jail, but instead request Frank’s services to the FBI. The 18-year-old is not so much a conman as he is someone who graciously takes advantage of any opportunity coming his way.
The film eventually makes stops in Miami, Atlanta, and New Orleans. Some of the best scenes in the film find Frank engaged to an air-headed nurse, Brenda (played by the lovely Amy Adams) — whom he met during his brief career as a doctor in the hospital where she worked. He charms her father (Martin Sheen), a state prosecutor, into believing that he graduated from the same law school as him. It works, and Frank’s new identity is now as an assistant prosecutor for the state of Louisiana. Frank’s textbook for courtroom decorum comes from the television show “Perry Mason.”
Categorizing Catch Me If You Can as a smart, funny cat-and-mouse film would ignore the sly social satire underneath. The film, written by Jeff Nathanson, is a delicate reflection of the American culture circa the 1960’s. The frivolity allowed Frank to live out his fantasies with no real repercussions. Without referring too much to the hippie era and radical politics, the film captures the giddy side of the ’60’s: The decade of the Rat Pack and James Bond. The acting from this cast is stellar with Walken earning a Best Supporting Actor nomination. Despite the film running a bit long at some points and not being all historically accurate, Spielberg has rejuvenated himself and created a film of pure enjoyment. With the colorful choreography and exceptional performances, this film is just a good old fashioned time at the movies.
Image Source: New York Post