Catch Me If You Can
Directed by Steven Spielberg. Starring Tom Hanks, Leonardo DiCaprio, Christopher Walken, Martin Sheen, Amy Adams, Nathalie Baye, James Brolin. (2002, PG-13, 140 min.)
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Dec. 27, 2002
From its opening, Saul Bass-inspired title sequence to the final bouncy rhythms of John Williams' kicky Sixties score, Catch Me if You Can goes down like a meringue cocktail. It's Spielberg with the message turned off, a jaunty two hours and 20 minutes that returns the director to his first love: blissfully pure cinematic fun. That it's a chase picture is only another of the film's many plusses – from Duel to Jaws to Minority Report Spielberg has shown time and again his rapturous love of the chase, and when he's on top of his game, as he is here, precious few do it better. Based on the autobiography by Frank Abagnale Jr., Catch Me if You Can gives us the rosy-cheeked DiCaprio as Abagnale, who at the tender age of 17 led the FBI and various other law enforcement agencies on a giddy global romp while he kited, forged, and manufactured checks to the tune of several million dollars over a four-year period. In the process, he assumed the (entirely false) identities of a Pan-Am co-pilot, a doctor, and a lawyer in order to enable his stunningly ballsy grifts. Maybe it was the temper of the times (or lack thereof – the mid-Sixties portrayed in Spielberg's film are less the revolutionary and war-torn period more commonly explored in film) or perhaps Abagnale was just that good, but for years no one caught on to his endless scams. No one except FBI agent and check fraud specialist Carl Hanratty (Hanks), who, through dogged hard work and countless nights and weekends at the office, finally figures out that this professional con man who's been running the FBI through hoops all this time is actually some punk kid with a serious load of familial issues. In flashbacks we see Abagnale's father, played with quiet, jittery ease by Christopher Walken (minus the tics and rote verbal spasms), as he slowly loses his business, his wife, and eventually his family to the strain of battling the IRS. Cuckolded by his French wife, Abagnale Sr. files for divorce, and Spielberg uses this as the precipitating emotional time bomb that sets the younger Abagnale in motion. Through it all, as Abagnale Jr. surrounds himself with leggy stewardesses and cons the airlines out of untold monies, there is Hanratty in the background; eventually he takes on the curious role of father figure in his quarry's life. Both Hanks and DiCaprio give sleek, streamlined performances that echo the film's stylishly breezy tone. DiCaprio is particularly fine -- his cockeyed grin and insouciant kidstuff smirk are ratcheted way up into the stratosphere and half the time he looks like the hepcat that swallowed the stewardess (which he does repeatedly), or maybe the world's oldest 5 year old on Christmas morning. Hanks, saddled with a New England accent so unyieldingly solid you could build a penitentiary out of it, is obviously having a grand old time playing the starched-shirt Hanratty, and his exuberant role-playing is contagious. Everything about this swift and gorgeous and tremendously enjoyable film is played out in a rush of staccato edits, crisp performances, and charmingly giddy subplots that coalesce into Spielberg's most purely entertaining movie in years.