Catch Me If You Can

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The plot in a nutshell
Based on a true story, this Spielberg film chronicles the cat and mouse game between Frank Abagnale, Jr (Leo DiCaprio) and Carl Hanratty (Tom Hanks).

As a young man - a very young man - Frank decides to set out on a life of fraud.  Bouncing checks across the country and impersonating a number of professions, including a doctor, lawyer and airline pilot, he cons his way into millions of dollars and more than one life.  Carl is the FBI man after him, early in the days of checks and therefore early in the days of bad checks.  Frank's early escapades are treated as less than a serious crime by many of Carl's contemporaries, but he doggedly hunts him down, and is made a fool more than once in his pursuit.

Set against the backdrop of the sixties, the movie got rave reviews on its initial theatrical run before Christmas of 2002.

Relatively Spoiler Free Thoughts
Frank and Carl have one of those twisted relationships Hollywood loves so much.  The bad guy and the good guy, reaching out to each other each in their own way, their lives inextricably woven together.

The film's strengths lie in two areas - the exceptional acting by Hanks and Dicaprio, who can do a lot even when their given very little, and the style and look of the entire movie.  They've captured the feel of the sixties in every shot, from the clothing and music to the cars and style.  Still, the movie ends up a less than satisfying experience.

Hanks does fine supporting job with the FBI agent, a slightly befuddled man with no family and even fewer friends.  For Carl, it's all about his work, and one doesn't have to guess why he's no longer married.  If you believe this film, just about everyone seems to be divorced in the 1960's.  Frank's parents divorce as well, and while this seems to be part of the reason for his start into crime, that's never really quite clear.  Frank is smart, that's obvious.  Frank learns from his father that there's nothing wrong with playing the system and pulling the wool over another's eyes if you're doing it for a good reason.  And it's pretty obvious that Frank's dad, played wonderfully by Christopher Walken, has gotten himself into some hot water with the IRS.

But you don't have to be a criminal to find yourself trapped in the quagmire that is income tax law, especially if you're a small business owner.  It's never explained, or even touched upon, as to what makes Frank Jr. tick and why he really found himself in this situation.  We're led to believe that the opportunity presented itself, and he took it.  Maybe it was that simple, and maybe there's nothing in his life preceding these events that made him more likely to jump through the hoops necessary to impersonate an airline pilot, or become a master check forger.  It seems unlikely though, and in the context of a well told story, I would have liked to see a greater explanation of who Frank really was.

As it is, he's not much more than a modernized Billy the Kid.  We're fascinated by him because he's breaking the law, but he seems so damn cool while he's doing it.  He stands out as the iconic rebel, but it's not quite clear what it is he's rebelling against.  It's not Dicaprio's fault, as he does a fine job with what he's been given.  It just seems that Spielberg is getting a tad lazy here, giving us more shine and polish than story.

For a film with a title about running from someone, the movie has very little motion.  Frank and Carl only collide four times over the course of four years (two of those times they never even see each other), and one can see how Frank would get lulled into believing he's safe.  One has to wonder why he worries at all, and if it wasn't for his regular Christmas calls to Carl, he would have been a whole lot safer.  The movie drags a bit in the middle, suffering from second act weariness, but manages to pick up again by three quarters of the way in.

Hanks and DiCaprio share very little screen time during the first three quarters of the film, but when they are together the movie is at it's best.  The other stand out performance is from Walken, and the father/son scenes between he and Dicaprio are also extremely well written, directed and acted.

In the end, everything works out just peachy of course, for both the good guy and the bad.  From what I've read of the real life Abagnale, that's not too far from the truth.

Rating - Rent It
This isn't a bad film - far from it really.  It's an enjoyable, entertaining little movie, with some decent performances by some excellent actors.  My negative reaction comes in most part from the exceptional reviews the film got when it was released by every critic I know.  Maybe they see the Siamese twins of hit movies, Spielberg/Hanks, splash across the screen and they check the brain cells in charge of critical thinking at the door. Or perhaps the opening credits, some of the coolest and creative in recent history, acted as a form of professional movie critic hypnosis.  Whatever the case, while the film is a fun watch, it is not Academy Award material, or even deserving of a ten best of 2002 list.

Spoiler Laden Thoughts
I'll skip the deep plot discussion this time, as the plot isn't all that deep.  That's the problem with most Spielberg films - they are pretty to look at, and fun to watch, but there's little beneath the surface.

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