Catch Me If You Can
A bright, shiny, feel-good package plastered with big stars, Steven Spielberg's snappy cat-and-mouse biopic Catch Me If You Can appropriately opens Christmas Day. It's the final sly move for an upscale popcorn movie that practically begs to be pegged the perfect Hollywood holiday gift of unabashedly commercial entertainment. Which it is.
Simple and breezy but not shallow or mindless, Catch Me If You Can tells the true boy's life adventure of Frank Abagnale (Leonardo DiCaprio), a teenage con artist who spent the latter half of the 1960s successfully posing as a pilot,
doctor, and lawyer, jetting around the world while kiting checks to the tune of over $2.5 million. Abagnale catches the attention of a klutzy but dogged FBI agent (Tom Hanks), who makes it his life's mission to track him down.
Abagnale's crimes are made to seem victimless, so it's not hard to root for him, especially when he's played by DiCaprio in full matinee-idol mode. The part is perfect for him, tailor-made to show he's that rare mix of movie star and actor, with wide emotional range and tremendous personal magnetism. Yet the actor never overwhelms the character, and considering how much wattage DiCaprio is giving off here, that's an incredible accomplishment.
Hanks deserves some sort of credit simply for taking a role that would have made even Laurence Olivier come off as second banana, but Hanks' unselfish, straight- arrow performance is just as important to making the film work. His innate aura of human decency keeps the intense Fed from becoming a parody of Javert-styled severity or Dragnet-like pastiche. That said, the film's truly great supporting performance comes from perpetually odd Christopher Walken, as Abagnale's shady but likable dad, an eternal optimist gradually beaten down into bitterness.
Jeff Nathanson's script, which is adapted from Abergnale's book, is sleek and witty, but could have used more hep lingo from the period for verisimilitude, and contains a couple moments of narrative disconnect, especially in regards to the FBI investigation and the timing of events. Spielberg, however, is in top everyman form, playing auteur as anonymous total professional, with a minimum of cheap emotional tricks, and not a single shot that calls attention to the camerawork instead of the story. He makes it look effortless, and maybe for him, it was.