Catch Me If You Can
Dislike of movies based on true stories (or those based on "actual events," which seems to be the replacement for "true stories" lately) that were previously unfamiliar is growing. You may have enjoyed A Beautiful Mind a lot more if you hadn't learned about the numerous negative aspects of John Forbes Nash Jr.'s life that were carefully sidestepped in the film. Ditto for Frida and Evelyn. Sitting through a formulaic biopic, the last thing you want to find out is that the filmmakers have sugarcoated everything to make their protagonist more likable, which, one would imagine, makes their job as storytellers a whole lot easier. Auto Focus is the only recent flick that showed its subject, warts and all.
But, you have no idea if you're being deprived of any warts in Steven Spielberg's Catch Me If You Can, but you couldn't care less if the film received a Ron Howard-esque saccharine shellacking simply because it isn't a by-the-numbers bore. You know you're in for a treat when the usually tiresome John Williams provides an appropriately upbeat, 60s-influenced score over the 60s-influenced credits before Catch Me drops us in the audience of television's To Tell the Truth. The three contestants each claim to be Frank Abagnale Jr., the world's youngest and most successful con artist, but, of course, only one is being honest.
Our real Abagnale is played by Leonardo DiCaprio (Gangs of New York), who we then see via two separate flashback threads-one as a younger teen in New Rochelle, and one in a Marseilles prison right after he's been nabbed by an FBI Agent named Carl Hanratty (Tom Hanks). The former depicts Abagnale in his innocent, formative years, where, by chance, the bust-up of his parental units (Christopher Walken and Nathalie Baye) happened to coincide with his 16th birthday and, more importantly, the receipt of his very own checking account. From there, it's off to the races as Abagnale quickly began a reign of what eventually became six years of forgery, bank fraud, and various career impersonations that will make you think of those "No, but I stayed at a Holiday Inn Express last night" television ads.
Catch Me really has it all, from super-spy/fox Jennifer Garner's appearance as a high-end hooker, to both of the candidates from this year's presidential election (Martin Sheen and James Brolin) to a somewhat obscure comic book reference that, sadly, is ultimately revealed to viewers. The acting is solid across the board, and Spielberg's usual behind-the-camera crew log in another very enjoyable technical package that is highlighted by the wonderful period sets. Still, the highlight here is the story, which deftly plays off the unusual cat-and-mouse relationship between a flashy criminal who has become a worthy, friendly adversary to a dull-as-nails authority figure with no personal life. Catch Me is a rare example of a picture that gets you to quietly root for a delinquent. That said, there's still the whole warts issue, and Catch Me never really shows how Abagnale becomes so adept at forgery.
It's probably completely unintentional, but there's an interesting scene in Catch Me where Hanratty goes to the home of Abagnale's father in an attempt to learn the whereabouts of the man's namesake. There's a bit of verbal sparring between the two, but Abagnale Sr. refuses to give up his son. Eventually, Hanratty finds a scrap of paper with Abagnale Jr.'s address. Keen observers will realize this is just like the legendary scene in True Romance, only this time Walken isn't the eager heavy to Dennis Hopper's helpless dad. Well, that and the killing.
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