Catch Me If You Can
directed by Steven Spielberg
(Dreamworks, 2002)

Leonardo DiCaprio had two films released in 2002 -- the Academy Award-nominated Gangs of New York was one, and the breath of fresh air, Catch Me If You Can, was the other.

Breezy Catch Me, now on video, is based on the real-life 1960s adventures of con man Frank Abagnale Jr., whose chameleon charm made him an airline pilot, a doctor, an attorney and an FBI target while he was still barely old enough to grow a beard. One of his aliases is Barry Allen -- pulled from his Flash comic books, for heaven's sake.

For Brenda Strong (Amy Adams), he's Frank Conners, a dashing physician who proposes marriage. For Frank Strong (Martin Sheen), he's a potential son-in-law who has a law degree. To stewardesses worldwide, he's a dashing, always available Pan Am pilot.

But for two older men -- FBI agent Carl Hanratty and Abagnale's own father -- young Frank is an obsession. Carl (Tom Hanks) wants to apprehend him. And Frank Sr. (Christopher Walken) wants to be him.

Catch Me If You Can begins when Frank Jr. still lives at home, in an upscale suburban New York neighborhood and with dashing parents who met in France during the war. But it's soon evident Dad is more hot air than financial success, and Mom is having an affair with Dad's best friend. When the inevitable money ruin hits and Mom files for divorce, Frank Jr. heads for the hills.

He survives at first by faking checks, but soon graduates to faking credentials, forging paychecks and flying for free all over the world as a airline pilot. He beds stewardesses, pockets money and leads agent Hanratty on one wild goose chase after another.

As Frank, DiCaprio has the youthful glee to pass as a rookie pilot, and can fake enough gravitas to convince people he's really a lawyer. It's a performance that shifts between his exhilaration at his own exploits and a weary wish to get caught, and when Frank has to deal with Hanratty, a real loneliness seeps through his voice.

Hanks is wonderful as the FBI agent, by turns bedeviled and nearly affectionate, and Walken, in his Oscar-nominated role, has a needy bluster that brings Frank Sr.'s weaknesses to the fore without getting overly sentimental or hard.

Catch Me isn't always a lark; the male Abagnales' rapport lends a more melancholy air. But as a stylized '60s chase, with some catchy graphics and a rather hip John Williams score, Catch Me If You Can is a quick-moving, entertaining couple of hours.

- Rambles
written by Jen Kopf
published 15 November 2003

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