Catch Me If You Can
By Matt Singer
If there was ever a time that Steven Spielberg could not make a movie like Catch Me If You Can look like a piece of cake, then those days are deep in shrouded mysteries of the forgotten years of yore. Catch Me is a chase movie many times more entertaining than one anticipates, and in the capable hands of Spielberg it is as nimble and light on its feet as a long distance runner. This is lucky for its hero, Frank W. Abagnale Jr. (Leonardo DiCaprio), since he doesn’t hang around in any one place for long in the two hour film.
Abagnale starts running in New Rochelle, when his mother (Nathalie Baye) decides to leave his father (Christopher Walken) when Frank is just a teenager. Frank Senior is a troublemaker, but a charmer; he convinces a tailor to open early just to give Frank Jr. a suit for a “funeral” - actually a loan interview in which Junior is playing the part of his father’s driver. The divorce hits young Frank hard and he takes flight, literally. Pan Am checks prove easy to forge, and getting in the cockpit is, freakishly, even easier.
The cat to Frank’s mouse is FBI Agent Carl Hanratty, played in a wonderful performance by Tom Hanks. Hanratty is the only type of man who could catch a forger (or “fah-gehr” as Hanratty growls in his thick New England accent) as good as Frank, he practically lives at his office and works on Christmas eve. He’s also notoriously unfunny, and as portrayed by Hanks that makes him absolutely hilarious. Whatever you do, don’t run to the bathroom or answer your cell phone when Hanratty shares his knock-knock joke. Hanks has become so good as serious types in serious movies one sometimes forgets how funny he could be as well. I think its time he gets back to his comedy roots, and not in a film that costars Meg Ryan.
DiCaprio might not have as many punch lines, but he, along with the rest of the ensemble, is perfectly cast. Who else could play the teenager who looks thirty, who charms female bank tellers, cashing fahged checks and taking them out to steak dinners. DiCaprio earned a lot of resentment for his role in Titanic, but it’s difficult not to be won over by his performance like a stewardess in a beehive hairdo.
Here Spielberg has established an equation with Frank on one side and Hanratty on the other, and because of the very likable performances, it is a painfully equal one. We want Frank to escape, but we want Hanratty to catch him. When they interact on the phone or in person the tension is incredible. We’re having so much fun, we’d almost like the chase to go on forever.