Catch Up With "Catch Me If You Can" Review

Steven Spielberg, for all his wealth and power, sometimes does his best work as a hired gun. Even casual filmgoers can recognize his directorial factory settings when they see them: strong beams of light (usually courteous of Janusz Kaminski), savior complexes, and ambivalent fathers unsure of just how fatherly they want to be. When working on material that is obviously personal to him, these themes can overpower his otherwise sharp storytelling sensibilities, but when just providing grist for the mill, he can re-evaluate them, reshape them, and find insights that he would probably never produce on his own. The case for this has never been stronger than with Catch Me If You Can, a film he directed only to protect his investment as a producer. There are fathers here, to be sure (Tom Hanks, Christopher Walken, and Martin Sheen, no less), but they struggle less with their own problems than with bringing the world’s most unruly son (Leonardo DiCaprio) under control, who might be the best stand-in that Spielberg ever found.

Frank Abagnale, Jr. (DiCaprio) was Don Draper before Don Draper was Don Draper. At the height of the swinging sixties, Abagnale was inventing entire personas, careers, and degrees, each one more glamorous and impressive than the last. It was, of course, fraud on a massive scale, but high-school aged boys aren’t likely to be persuaded by petty details like that. Besides, at least he’s not a chump like his beloved father (Walken, at probably his most lovable), who gets screwed over by both his company and his wife (because, Abagnale can only assume, he didn’t screw them first). Really, the only monkey wrench in his plans is Carl Hanratty (Hanks), a federal agent nipping at his heels even when he tries to do the right thing. For Abagnale, Carl is ‘the man’, that oblique authorial voice keeping him from having fun, but he’s also the inevitable: the threat that adulthood in all its tyranny will some day take hold.

Even Spielberg’s detractors (and they are legion) frequently concede him one talent: the ability to keep things moving. No matter the setting or the number of moving parts, he has a rare ability to suggest motion and progress even when very little is happening. In this respect, Catch Me is a nearly perfect vehicle for his abilities. Abagnale is constantly on the run, as are the people charged with tracking him down; he moves from period set-piece to period set-piece with a briskness that would challenge James Bond. Similarly, Spielberg manages to keep what is obviously a very expensive film from getting bogged down in minutiae; it is an image that recalls his early reputation as a technical mastermind unable to handle adult emotions or serious topics. It’s a reputation that he spent the latter half of his career fighting with nearly every other film he made.

But like Spielberg, Abagnale (in what might be DiCaprio’s best, or at least most charming, performance) is ultimately forced to face the life that he’s made for himself, and he’s lucky enough for it to happen at the hands of someone as responsible as Hanratty. In a filmography filled with absent father figures, it’s telling that the most dedicated and concerned out of all of them is a federal agent tracking down a young criminal. But even more than a lifetime in prison, Hanratty represents the straight life, spent toiling in a cubicle for work that never get appreciated (a nifty montage cutting between Hanratty at the Laundromat and Abagnale romancing Jennifer Garner says it all). It’s sure a come-down from the sweet life that he was used to, but even the Lost Boys came to understand the value of life outside Neverland.

One should try not to infer too much into a director’s psychosis, but it’s not hard to see how this is a story that spoke directly to the man who gave us Henry Jones, Senior. Catch Me, however, represents a significant break from the rest of his work in that adulthood is filled with as much promise as menace, and that enemies might just be looking out for you after all.


The disc contains several featurettes, including "Catch Me If You can: Behind The Camera", "CAST Me If You Can: The Casting of the Film", "Scoring: Catch Me If You Can", "Frank Abagnale: Between Reality and Fiction", "The FBI Perspective", "Catch Me If You Can: In Closing". There are also a few photo galleries.

"Catch Me If You Can" is on sale December 4, 2012 and is rated PG13. Crime. Directed by Steven Spielberg. Written by Jeff Nathanson. Starring Amy Adams, Christopher Walken, James Brolin, Jennifer Garner, Leonardo DiCaprio, Martin Sheen, Nathalie Baye, Tom Hanks.

Anders Nelson • Associate Editor


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