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If “Catch Me If You Can” doesn’t prove that Leonardo DiCaprio is one of the best — if not the best — young actor working in Hollywood (or anywhere else) today, then nothing will. DiCaprio, fresh from a gritty and bloody performance as an Irish thug in “Gangs of New York”, has shifted gears and joined Tom Hanks and director Steven Spielberg in the lightweight “Catch Me If You Can”.
“Catch Me” is based on a true story, and stars DiCaprio as Frank Abagnale Jr., a real-life man who, at the age of 17, impersonated a pilot, a doctor, and a lawyer. And he did it all successfully, even while being chased across the country, and then the world, by tenacious G-man Carl Hanratty (Tom Hanks). Frank’s life of infamy began as a teenager in High School, when at a whim he impersonated a French teacher just to teach a bully a lesson. Frank runs away from home when his parents divorce, shattering any pretenses of a happy home.
“Catch Me” opens with Hanks’ Hanratty at a French prison to accept extradition of Frank, who has been under arrest for the last two years, back to the U.S. Because the movie is a true story, and is based on Frank’s own autobiography, there’s no question if Frank will get caught, only when. For the most part, the movie takes place a few years earlier, as Frank first sets off on his life of crime. The screenplay by Jeff Nathanson is brisk and well paced, and the movie rarely lags until the very end, when Hanratty offers Frank a job with the FBI in lieu of serving out his prison sentence. Beyond that, the movie fills up its running time nicely.
Because it is so lightweight and uninterested in making a statement of note, “Catch Me” is, for the most part, a breezy comedy as Frank goes through life fooling and lying to everyone, forging millions of dollars worth of checks along the way. Frank’s large thefts force Hanratty, the FBI’s chief check fraud man, to track him down, exposing Frank’s fake identity one at a time. Soon, Frank and Hanratty have developed an odd relationship, since Frank’s life of crime has not allowed him any close friends, and Hanratty is as close to a “friend” as he’ll ever have.
The other big character in “Catch Me” is Christopher Walken, who plays Frank’s father, Frank Sr., a conman himself. Frank Sr. was the one responsible for teaching his son the trade, thus convincing Frank Jr. that anyone can be anything as long as he speaks fast enough, smiles a lot, and shows the right suit. After Frank runs away from home, he continues to write his father, lying to him about his “accomplishments.” Underneath it all, Frank just wants his father’s approval, but this proves difficult, if not impossible, when Frank Sr. proves to be a stubborn and selfish man, unable to let go of his own problems for just one moment. Because he possesses such a warp sense of right and wrong, Frank Sr. never once tells Frank that his life of crime is wrong, even as Frank practically begs him to do so.
“Catch Me” is set in the ’60s, and the era is recreated in great detail. Spielberg and his longtime contributor Janusz Kaminski (“Minority Report”) have given much of “Catch Me” a Hollywood polish reminiscent of old caper and romantic dramas starring old Hollywood stars like Cary Grant. DiCaprio is appropriately dashing and vulnerable, high-spirited but lonely at the same time; and Tom Hanks (“Road to Perdition”), sporting a thick accent, does his usual good work. Even as Frank is making a fool of Hanratty by always being one step ahead of him, it’s Hanratty who proves to have a purpose, and Frank who needs one.
“Catch Me If You Can” is a decent movie with good performances, but beyond that it’s a throwaway film. An amusing, spirited, and fun film, yes — but a throwaway film nevertheless.
Steven Spielberg (director) / Jeff Nathanson (screenplay)
CAST: Leonardo DiCaprio …. Frank Abagnale Jr.
Tom Hanks …. Carl Hanratty
Christopher Walken …. Frank Abagnale
Martin Sheen …. Roger Strong