Steven Spielberg is known for the speed with which he zips through shooting movies. Except for "Jaws" and "Close Encounters of the Third Kind", he usually wraps production in a timely manner. Even when filming the logistically difficult and pioneering "Jurassic Park", Spielberg was able to complete principal photography two days ahead of schedule. That he is able to make masterpieces without shooting and shooting and shooting is part of Spielberg's genius.
However, just because Spielberg can do things quickly doesn't mean that he should do it all the time. He released two movies during 2002--"Minority Report" and "Catch Me If You Can". While the former seems to have been made with an eye towards perfecting every detail, the latter seems rushed, lacking a clear vision, unsure of its tone, and unfinished. "CMIYC" was filmed in a matter of 50-something days--as if Spielberg just wanted to get done with it. You can sense a certain amount of greatness in "CMIYC", but that greatness is compromised by the filmmakers' dubious desire to parallel the craft of filmmaking with the blur of a life that Frank Abagnale Jr. lived during the 1960s.
"CMIYC" tells the based-on-real-life story of a teenager who decided that he was better at scamming the world rather than leading the life of an upstanding citizen. When his parents divorce, Frank Abagnale Jr. (Leonardo DiCaprio) runs away from home and devises ingenious ways of passing himself off as an airline pilot, a doctor, a lawyer, and numerous other identities. He also figures out how to create fake checks that are so realistic that even banks believe that they are legitimate documents. However, Abagnale's tricks attract the attention of FBI agent Carl Hanratty (Tom Hanks with a good/bad Boston accent), a guy who practically invented the field of bank fraud prevention. As Abagnale descends further and further into a web of his own lies, only Hanratty seems to be able to get close to him, in terms of emotional empathies as well as in terms of legal enforcement.
Earlier in this review, I wrote that "CMIYC" feels unfinished and rushed. I feel that Spielberg should've spent more days on location perfecting his shots and more days in the editing room refining a two-hour-twenty-minute movie rough draft into a two-hour final copy. It's possible to impart a sense of "chasing" and "rushing" (just look at "Minority Report" and the "Indiana Jones" series) without actually chasing and rushing when making a movie. Spielberg knows it, but he decided to play at guerilla filmmaking rather than at his usual game of professional craftsmanship. To be sure, there's a lot of talent on display (the movie looks and sounds good, courtesy of eye-catching costumes and a teasingly playful music score by John Williams), but the film doesn't seem to know what to make of itself and its main character.
You see, the real-life Abagnale admits that he was a criminal. In fact, he feels so badly about what he did that, every year, he donates a great deal of time to educating FBI agents and other security personnel on how to defeat frauds like himself. Abagnale admits that he hurt a lot of people along the way. Sure, to a young boy, the scams on display seem to be a lark, but we know that these shenanigans have serious consequences. The filmmakers know it as well, but they want to share in Abagnale's (and Leo's) immature glee. Thus, we end up with a movie that has a very confused middle act--it wants to be exuberantly somber or somberly exuberant, a combination that obfuscates rather than enlightens.
Like that other Leo December project of 2002, "Gangs of New York", "CMIYC" would've been a much better film (and possibly a great one at that) had inessential scenes been left on the editing room floor. For starters, there's a scene between Abagnale and a high-priced hooker (Jennifer Garner of TV's "Alias") that is wholly extraneous. By the time that this scene plays, we already get the idea that Abagnale is really good at scamming people. This scene shows us Abagnale scamming someone trying to charge him an exorbitant rate for an evening's worth of sexual activities. What's the point of including this scene in the movie? Jennifer Garner isn't in "CMIYC" long enough to have added dollars to the film's box office gross, and from a thematic perspective, this episodic incident adds nothing to the overall effect. A sequence involving Abagnale recruiting college girls as flight attendants could've been shorter than and would've had the same effect as it is. There's also Christopher Walken's role as Abagnale's father. The part has been underwritten, so scenes that feature Abagnales Sr. and Jr. feel forced and half-baked rather than emotionally resonant. As unwilling as I am to write it, Walken's good performance would've been better appreciated by me had they been included as deleted scenes on the DVD independent of the main feature.
So, do I like "CMIYC", then? Yes, I do. I recommend it without any hesitation. It's easier to absorb "CMIYC" than most of Spielberg's recent movies since it's an entertainment rather than a serious thesis about a humanistic issue. I'll probably watch "CMIYC" more times than I'll watch "Saving Private Ryan" and "Minority Report" combined. Still, I know that all that gloss is a seductive style that'll make you grin a lot, but you won't do much thinking after the movie's finished.
That animated opening credits sequence is amazing, though. :-)
Widescreen lovers rejoiced when they saw that "Minority Report" was framed at approximately 2.35:1--meaning, Spielberg was using a wide panoramic lens for the first time in more than a decade. It was too much for which to ask to have Spielberg shoot every subsequent movie in 2.35:1, so "CMIYC" marks a return to the 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen territory of the overwhelming majority of Spielberg's recent works. The cinematography for this movie was not as experimental as it was for "A.I." and "Minority Report", so we get a wash of bright colors, low grain levels, and a print so pristine that we can see every blemish on Leo's face during extreme close-ups. There doesn't seem to be any compression problems, and I didn't really detect excessive edge-enhancement, either. The only reason why I'm not rating the video transfer a "10" is because cinematographer Janusz Kaminski has a predilection for using odd camera angles that flood the negative with harsh lights. The resultant effect forces the viewer to shield his/her eyes sometimes, something that can be distracting when watching a movie.
The "CMIYC" DVD set offers four primary audio tracks. The Dolby Digital 5.1 English track mostly has music cues to handle, and it handles them well. You can tell that a deep bass presence is possible, but it has been controlled since it would not be esthetically appropriate to "boom" this movie constantly. The soundtrack feels very natural and wide, and it does a good job of making sure that we can hear the actors' voices all the time.
Those of you without Dolby Digital home theatre speaker systems should experience the movie with the DD 2.0 surround English track. There are also DD 5.1 French and DTS 5.1 English tracks. English, Spanish, and French subtitles as well as English closed captions support the audio.
While DreamWorks hasn't gone the Sony SuperBit route when it comes to DVDs, it has resorted to presenting its marquee titles as two-disc special editions. "CMIYC" was the moneybags for the studio in 2002, so we get the movie on one platter and the extras on another.
There aren't really any extras on Disc 1, but you do get three main menu options (comparable to the "Star Wars: Episode 1" DVD set). When the disc loads, you are presented with three silhouettes--one of a pilot, one of a doctor, and one of an office worker--each representing a different stage in Abagnale's life. Depending on which silhouette you choose, different sets of menus will present themselves on the screen in front of you.
Those of you familiar with the DVD releases of Spielberg's "A.I." and "Minority Report" will recognize the same kind of skeletal layout on Disc 2 that was used for the second discs of the aforementioned predecessor sets. Basically, with Spielberg's DVDs released by DreamWorks, you get a bunch of featurettes (that could've been combined into one long documentary) culminating in a "In Closing" summation. There's also a separate "Archives" section for miscellaneous extras.
"‘Catch Me If You Can': Behind the Camera", being the introductory featurette, feels like most other "making of" pieces. The basics of the story are introduced here, as are most of the principal filmmakers and the approach to depicting Abagnale's colorful life. We actually see footage of the first and last days of principal photography--a sure sign that filmmakers really do have DVDs in mind when they're making their movies.
"Cast Me If You Can: The Casting of the Film" is actually a collection of five featurettes that looks at the casting of Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hanks, Christopher Walken, Martin Sheen, Amy Adams, and Jennifer Garner. (Again, I must reiterate that any focus on Jennifer Garner is entirely misguided as her appearance in the movie doesn't do much for the final project as a whole.) "Scoring ‘Catch Me If You Can'" features interviews with composer John Williams and Spielberg about their longtime collaboration and the uniqueness of this project compared to their other works. "Frank Abagnale: Between Reality and Fiction" gives some background concerning the differences between events in Abagnale's life and events portrayed in the film. "The FBI Perspective" shows how the filmmakers relied on technical advice from retired FBI agents in order to bring a level of authenticity to the proceedings. Of course, "‘Catch Me If You Can': In Closing" is a capper to the video-based bonus materials.
Finally, in the "Archives", you will find Photo Galleries, Cast Bios, Filmmakers Bios, Production Notes: Colorful Characters (text pages), and Production Notes: A Colorful Time (text pages).
Alas, for some reason, DreamWorks has taken to following Mala Vista's lead in neglecting to include trailers on the DVDs for the movies that they advertise. The "Road to Perdition" DVD didn't have any trailers at all, and if you want the trailer for "CMIYC", you either have to download it from the Internet or buy another DreamWorks DVD (such as "The Ring" (2002) or "Ringu"). Booooo!
In yet another step back for DreamWorks, the glossy insert provides nothing except for the cover artwork of other DreamWorks DVDs.
My review of "CMIYC" probably seems rather critical of the movie despite my "7 out of 10" rating. The thing is, it's easy to spot changes that would've noticeably improved the film. No one's going to say "No" to Spielberg in today's world, though, so we have to be content with motion pictures that are longer than they need to be. To be sure, "CMIYC" effortlessly breezes over you as you settle in for an evening's entertainment. However, if you think about it, the film doesn't know if it wants to be a lighthearted dramedy or a somber morality play. The script shares Abagnale's delight in scamming people, so we viewers are seduced by that easy charm, too. However, the movie also reminds us that there were very real victims of the protagonist's scams and that he probably ruined some lives with his shenanigans. The film's indecision when it comes to judging Abagnale keeps it from being as accomplished as "Saving Private Ryan" or "Minority Report". Even though I had fun watching it, I have to agree with Roger Ebert's assessment of "Catch Me If You Can"--it's not a major Spielberg work.