Steven Spielberg’s “Catch Me if You Can” is a slick piece of entertainment with a strong central theme and it echoes some of the director’s best work.
It is based on the true story of a young man who learns to forge checks while still a high school student, gradually amassing a huge illegal fortune. The man’s name is Frank Abagnale Jr. and, interestingly enough, he works today as a fraud and forgery specialist for the FBI.
The film covers about 15 years of his life with Leonardo DiCaprio playing the young man who is eager to please. Tom Hanks plays Carl Handratty, a New England FBI agent who will not rest until Abagnale is behind bars. But, many have pointed out that Christopher Walken steals the film as Frank Abagnale Sr., a loving father who loses the respect of his wife after going bankrupt early in the film.
All three performances are great in a seemingly effortless way and the same could be said about the film itself and Spielberg’s direction.
When asked to describe the film to a friend, I expressed some disappointment in that it looked like Spielberg’s heart wasn’t in the film. Then I did some reading; this film was an experiment for Spielberg, who wanted to see if he could shoot a film set in more-or-less modern times with a minimum of digital correction and on a tight shooting schedule.
The film was shot in less than two months and 90 percent of the film was created in-camera, which means that there was no color correction and very little postproduction. In fact, the only digital effects in the film involve the animation of ’60s-era logos on familiar products.
Spielberg’s intention in making this film was to take a breather; it is possible that the relative public indifference to his last two projects (“A.I.” and “Minority Report”) may have soured him on the idea of making another huge effects films.
“Catch Me” does flow along effortlessly, flaunting the talent of everyone involved in a more subtle way. The problem is, you may find yourself forgetting the film entirely once you leave the theater. I have never had that happen to me after watching a Spielberg film (or any recent Hanks film, for that matter) and I don’t quite know whether that was intended or not. The film was especially light and easy to watch, but it simply didn’t pack the punch that I expected from a December release with such huge names attached to it.
The plot is simple enough, as Abagnale travels the globe faking identities and employment backgrounds; some of the best scenes involve his brief stint as a doctor, during which none of his coworkers are aware that he has no medical training. He also forges a pilot’s license and manages to convince a room full of eager high-school girls that he is a seasoned pilot looking to take 10 lucky ladies with him for an exclusive stewardess-training program.
The film is essentially a cat-and-mouse detective film dressed up as light comedy, but the most moving scenes involve the young Abagnale trying to convince his divorced parents to reunite, with their son’s success as the catalyst. Hanks’ FBI agent is a caricature of the humorless cop whose work is his life; he is never intended to be anything more than Abagnale’s foil.
The film will likely receive no major Oscar nominations, so its time in theaters may be dwindling. If you are looking for a good time and nothing more, “Catch Me if You Can” will more than suffice.