The International Writers Magazine
: Film Review

Review: Catch Me If You Can
Dir Steven Spielberg
Screenplay: Jeff Nathanson
Alex Segal

With a host of gripping historical projects under his belt, for example Schindler’s List and Band of Brothers, you may be forgiven for thinking that a tale involving a teenager whose alias is the name of a cartoon character is a bit lightweight for mogul Steven Spielberg.

But after closer inspection, you will find that he has not just recreated one of the most daring and mind-boggling pieces of historical fiction in Catch Me If You Can, he has also recreated it with originality.

Many say that truth is stranger than fiction, but with this particular film, it is also more enjoyable than what any fiction could produce. Catch Me… revolves around teenager Frank Abagnale Jr., played in the film by Leonardo DiCaprio, who runs away from his troubled home life and soon passes himself off as a ‘Pan Am’ pilot, a doctor, a teacher and a lawyer. He cashes millions of dollars in false cheques in 26 different countries, lives in fancy hotels, and sleeps with an abundance of women. Meanwhile, the FBI is chasing the world's most successful con artist. Oh, and the reason behind it? Nothing but pure fun! Abagnale stated “what started out as survival became more and more of a game.” Aged 21, he spent nearly five years in jail before working for the FBI and becoming one of the world's most respected experts on identity and cheque fraud.

This cat-and-mouse movie, which co-stars two-time Oscar award winner Tom Hanks, is an irresistible true story with a few Hollywood twists on the tale. Although the DVD box depicts it as the ‘real story of a true fake’, it is by no means completely biographical. Using artistic licensing, it is a diluted account. There must be various reasons why Spielberg felt the need to adapt some stories. For example, Hanks’ character of Carl Hanratty, a boring work-a-holic FBI Agent, was created entirely for the film to add to the drama. In real life, although Abagnale did have a constant FBI contact that he spoke to, various members of the FBI, all over the world, attempted to track him down.

Spielberg does a great job of bringing history to the big screen with precise authenticity by pinpointing the ‘slickness’ of the sixties. He creates a piece of nostalgia by showing, for example, the popularity and celebrity style status that came with being an aeroplane pilot in uniform, just about everyone in the late sixties trusted and respected a man in a uniform. This helped Abagnale exploit the innocence and naiveté that the generation contained. In a time where there was no technology to prevent these types of fraud or abuse of trust.

John Williams, a Spielberg regular, uses a jazzy musical score emphasizing the feel of the generation when Abagnale’s tricks were in full swing. He introduces an influx of colour through his music and onto the screen, which works well in collaboration with the motion picture.

DiCaprio puts paid to the movie critics that had slammed his previous performances. He embodies the role of Abagnale with the style, wit and charming sophistication that the character exemplifies and this is easily his most watchable performance of his career. Yet, without Hanks’ fictional character alongside him, or in this case, one step behind him, the movie would only have been half as good. Although he is billed as the second lead, he once again delivers the goods by maintaining a riveting sense of both drama and comedy, he combines his aggravation at his incapability to arrest his number one target with a comical sense of affection and warmth for Frank. However, beyond the two stars, Christopher Walken produced a performance worthy of his 2003 Oscar nomination as Frank Sr. a character that he played with heartfelt wit and sorrow.

The only drawback of the movie is that we only really see the view of Abagnale, which makes him appeal to the audience even though what he is doing is morally ambiguous. The audience wants to see him get away with everything despite his illicit behaviour. We never get to see the effects of the forgery on the banks that lost millions. As we follow Abagnale’s story, we enjoy seeing the protaganist in his illegal attempts and as a result, want him to escape victorious.

Although this is one of Spielberg’s more light-hearted pieces of work, he truly captures the life of Frank Abagnale Jr. and his spellbinding story. Even though in both reality and the motion picture, the protagonist gets caught, the audience gets nothing but pure escapism. If you haven’t seen this film, you need to. It’s one thing to forge cheques; it’s another escaping from an aeroplane toilet whilst under arrest. There’s nothing like a great cat-and-mouse chase film. If you ever see the film on the television then, please, catch it. That is, of course, if you can.

© Alex Segal December 2005

Alex is studying Film Studies & Creative Arts at the Portsmouth University

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