Catch Me If You Can -- ***1/2 (out of 5) (2002)
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hanks, Christopher Walken, Martin Sheen, Amy Adams
Directed By Steven Spielberg
I suppose it's a long time coming for Steven Spielberg to take a break from his string of very serious films (AMISTAD, SAVING PRIVATE RYAN, A.I., and MINORITY REPORT) to do something fun, and if there's anything that CATCH ME IF YOU CAN definitely is, it's fun. Just don't think it was any less difficult to make, because he doesn't have the best of scripts to work with, and there's a lot of loose ends to the story that the film ignores in order to keep the roguish young con artist looking like the hero, especially of the people whose lives must have been negatively impacted because of his forgeries and lies. The fact that he succeeds only makes his skills as director that much more impressive, because it's not until the movie is over that you wonder about the things left unexplained. It is a 2 hour and 20 minute film, but like Frank Abagnale, Jr. himself, it never stops moving for a second.
The film starts off with the blurb that it is "inspired by" a true story, which usually means that an actual story provided the idea for a mostly fictionalized story. The real Frank Abagnale, Jr. was a mere teenage when he proceeded to con his way to making millions in bad checks, phony credentials and working in occupations such as being a pilot and doctor for a time. Frank starts his life on his own trying to gain enough money to get back all that his parents lost with an IRS investigation into his father's affairs, and also in hopes that it will keep his parents together. He learns to write bad checks, and eventually forge them, learning the process from people who seem not to notice his interest in how it all works. Eventually he uses his skills to phony up papers to make himself a pilot, and away he goes around the country swindling millions out of unsuspecting businesses and banks. Hot on his trail is FBI agent Carl Hanratty, who always seems to have Frank in his grasp, only to come up empty-handed, much to his embarrassment.
There's really no one I wouldn't recommend CATCH ME IF YOU CAN to, as it is breezy, well-made escapism, and you'll probably have a good time watching it. Spielberg subdues his style, letting the characters drive the story, and the outlandish events provide their own entertainment. It's adapted from Abagnale's own book (written by Stan Redding) by Jeff Nathanson, whose only claims to screenwriting fame come from lackluster screenplays like SPEED 2: CRUISE CONTROL and RUSH HOUR 2, and although this is probably his best work to date, it could have been written with a little more wit. Luckily, this is a film that doesn't require great writing or much depth, as any pause for reflection would ruin the momentum. Besides, this is a compelling story, starring appealing actors, and directed by the best in the business, with a great and untypical jazzy score by John Williams.
Well done stuff that makes me hope it's not long before Spielberg needs another breather. I don't need to tell you to go see it. The film's title should tell you all.
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