The Film According to John:
Let me begin by admitting that I’ve never quite understood the allure of Leonardo DiCaprio that so many other filmgoers have found. I mean, he seems always in demand by Hollywood’s most-important directors, working for such people as James Cameron, Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, Danny Boyle, Sam Mendes, Christopher Nolan, Clint Eastwood, Quentin Tarantino, and Baz Luhrmann. Not that I don’t think DiCaprio is a good actor; I’ve just never noticed anything so special about him that has attracted the attention of such prestigious names and projects. Anyway, in 2002’s “Catch Me If You Can,” DiCaprio plays a pleasantly lightweight role in a pleasantly lightweight picture from Steven Spielberg, a movie based on a few of the alleged real-life exploits of a young con artist and impostor, Frank Abagnale Jr., as recounted in Abagnale’s semiautobiographical, and presumably at least partly true, book of the same name.
The real-life Abagnale may have been even more daring than his movie counterpart, or the real-life character may have simply made up much of his own story. It doesn’t matter; as one of the screenwriters told him, it’s just a movie, not a biography. It’s an entertainment, and in that regard it works pretty well in a breezy, lighthearted sort of way.
The opening titles and the accompanying music by John Williams set the scene by looking and sounding very Sixties, the time setting for the story, which begins on the TV quiz “To Tell the Truth.” You remember the old show where a panel of celebrities had to guess which of three contestants were telling the truth about who they were. Frank Abagnale Jr. (DiCaprio) is a contestant on the show, and it provides a convenient expositional framework for summarizing his life as an impostor
The show tells us he impersonated an airline pilot, a pediatrician, and a state assistant attorney general, among other things, all successfully. By the time the authorities caught up with him, they considered him “the youngest and most-daring con man in U.S. history.” He had cashed almost $4,000,000 in fraudulent checks in twenty-six foreign countries and all fifty states, and he did it all before his nineteenth birthday.
The movie’s story begins in 1963, where we see Frank begin his life of crime. He’s a fairly typical teenager, living an outwardly model life in suburban New York, living with a pair of seemingly model parents, Frank Sr. (Christopher Walken) and Paula (Nathalie Baye). Beneath the surface, however, things are not quite so idyllic. The film portrays Frank’s father as something of a con man himself and a failing businessman, and his mother as seeing someone on the side. When his parents divorce, Frank Jr. splits, and his adventures begin.
Because Frank’s exploits are episodic, the film tends to be a bit fragmented. We go from one of Frank’s impersonations to the next as he finds that life can be a lot easier when he’s someone else. Simply putting on the uniform of an airline pilot and then acting the part not only gets him free rides on the airline he pretends to work for but allows him to cash forged checks with the backing of the airline. DiCaprio plays Frank in a breezily warmhearted manner, his assurance giving Frank a brazenly disarming audacity that wins over those around him.
Frank’s impersonation of a doctor seems a bit far-fetched, but he pulls it off at least for a while. It’s at a hospital that he meets a pretty young nurse (Amy Adams) with whom he falls in love, precipitating another impersonation as a lawyer to impress her father (Martin Sheen).
Still, it’s the secondary character in the movie that probably deserves the most attention. Tom Hanks plays FBI Special Agent Carl Hanratty, a serious, straight-arrow fellow who relentlessly pursues Frank across the country and around the world. At first, it’s funny to see Frank always one step ahead of poor Hanratty. Then we begin to realize that both of these men are somewhat alike: Both are lonely and both are doing what they do best. More important, we see a kind of father-son relationship develop between them that is really quite touching, both of them seeing something they find missing in their lives.
Anyway, as I say, the film is a little herky-jerky at times, a little hit-and-miss. An episode involving Frank impersonating a substitute teacher and another as a sophisticated James Bond type are amusing, particularly an encounter with a high-paid call girl (Jennifer Garner). Some of the business goes on too long, though. Still, it’s Spielberg, and he holds our attention for the most part.
Much of the story seems exaggerated as well, and no doubt is, even if the real-life Frank Abagnale Jr. acted as a consultant on the film. Poetic license, I suppose, but who cares; as I mentioned, it’s a movie entertainment, after all, and Spielberg doesn’t intend it to project the authenticity of a “Lincoln.”
For record, after leading law enforcement on a merry chase from 1963 to 1969, Frank spent the next four years in prison before taking up a career in the security field. He actually worked for time with the FBI investigating check scams and continues to this day as a consultant, lecturer, and owner of a security firm that advises businesses about fraud.
John’s film rating: 7/10
The Film According to Eddie:
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 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, 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.
Eddie’s film rating: 7/10
DreamWorks use a dual-layer BD50 and an MPEG-4/AVC codec to reproduce the film on Blu-ray in its native aspect ratio, 1.85:1. It’s a very realistic-looking picture, with subdued colors. Definition is often intentionally a tad soft, with the appearance of natural lighting. It shows up well, especially with deep blacks setting off the colors.
The use of a lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 works wonders for the music, which comes off as pleasantly open and ambient, warm and smooth, with a wide stereo spread. There is not a lot of surround information beyond the musical bloom, though. A strong deep bass response helps to set off the music. Dialogue also comes off well, lifelike, with no hardness or edge.
The primary extras comprise six featurettes, all of them in standard definition. “Catch Me If You Can: Behind the Camera” is a seventeen-minute making-of affair. “Cast Me If You Can: The Casting of the Film” is made up of several different segments on each of the film’s stars, the segments lasting from four to seven minutes each. Unfortunately, DreamWorks do not provide a “Play All” button, so you have to slog through each section individually. “Scoring: Catch Me If You Can” gives us about five minutes on John Williams and his musical score. “Frank Abagnale: Between Reality and Fiction” is another multi-segment feature, this time on the real-life character, with four chapters at two-to-five minutes each, and again no “Play All” button. Then, there’s “The FBI Perspective,” about seven minutes, and “Catch Me If You Can: In Closing,” about five minutes.
The extras conclude with three photo galleries; twenty-two scene selections; bookmarks; English, French, Spanish, and Portuguese spoken languages and subtitles; and English captions for the hearing impaired.
I don’t think anyone would argue that “Catch Me If You Can” is one of Steven Spielberg’s best films. However, it is good enough and passes a pleasant couple of hours. DiCaprio, whom I’ve mentioned doesn’t usually impress me much, turns in a sturdy, understated performance, and the supporting cast is fine. Sure, the movie drags at times, but it’s still better than you might think.