[box cover]

Catch Me If You Can

DreamWorks Home Entertainment

Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hanks, and Christopher Walken

Written by Jeff Nathanson
Directed by Steven Spielberg

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Review by Dawn Taylor                    

The year 2002 was a good one for Steven Spielberg — it was the year that he returned to making movies that were fun, rather than beating audiences over the head with Important Social Messages. On the heels of his surprisingly breezy SF action-pic Minority Report, Steve spent a quick 52 days shooting Catch Me If You Can, his slick, slightly loopy period piece about real-life con man Frank Abagnale, Jr. (played by Leonardo DiCaprio). It may not be Spielberg's best movie — but, by golly, it's his happiest, friendliest film in a long, long time.

The Saul Bass-inspired opening credits and jazzy, retro score (courtesy of longtime Spielberg music man John Williams) set the swingin' '60s tone. Based on Abagnale's autobiography, the movie tells his true-life, believe-it-or-not story: As a teenager, Abagnale faked checks, diplomas, and birth certificates. He also cashed forged checks for millions before his 21st birthday and flew around the world for free posing as a Pan Am pilot. He later went on to successfully impersonate a doctor and a lawyer. Then, after serving several international sentences for fraud, he was paroled at age 26 on the condition that he go to work for the FBI and teach agents how to catch guys just like himself.

Spielberg's film follows five important years in Abagnale's life, from the point where he started kiting checks through his Pan Am adventures and, finally, to his capture and detainment in a French prison. To make the story more than just an admiring bit of fluff about a charming grifter (and to add more than a little of Spielberg's own thematic obsessions), we're given the Freudian background on the lad — an obsessive admiration for a larcenous father (Christopher Walken), deep pain over his parents' divorce, and a burning desire to shine in his parents' eyes. Fleshing out the daddy complex undertones is Abagnale's cat-and-mouse relationship with the FBI agent who's chasing him (Tom Hanks, in a spirited take on your standard 60's G-man). All of this is presented as a witty, glossy fairy tale — truthfully, one may feel a twinge of guilt enjoying Abagnale's shenanigans without any concern for who he may have hurt in the process — with ever-so-slight subtext about fathers, sons, families and the personal need for validation.

*          *          *

Leonardo DiCaprio — who's transmogrified in recent years from post-Titanic heartthrob into a puffy, slightly seedy, party boy teetering on the brink of career implosion — is very good in Catch Me If You Can as Abagnale, exhibiting a somewhat dorky confidence as the teen faker. His still-impressive acting chops are especially notable when his character just barely escapes capture; caught red-handed in his hotel room, surrounded by check-forging equipment, DiCaprio looks FBI-man Hanks dead in the eye and seamlessly transforms himself into an undercover agent welcoming Hanks into the room — fooling him into believing Abagnale is actually a colleague. It's a scene that not only convinces us that this teenager is really capable of getting away with all he's done, but that showcases DiCaprio's own amazing confidence and not-inconsiderable charisma (now if he could just continue making decent movies and steer clear of dreck like The Beach, he might find his face back on the cover of Tiger Beat one day).

Dressed in standard, Joe Friday black with skinny ties and clip-on sunglasses, Hanks makes his humorless government agent character both sympathetic and likable. But the real performance gem in the film is Walken as Abagnale, Sr., the less-than-noble role model who inspired his son's fast-talk streak. It's a beautifully written role, and Walken makes the most of it, his eyes tearing up when recounting for the thousandth time how, as a young soldier, he spied Frank's mother dancing in a small French village — and winning the heart of his son (not to mention the audience) as he dances a turn with his beloved wife around their suburban living room. Frank, Sr.'s a charming loser, and Walken makes your heart bend for him even as you want to wring his neck — it may be the actor's most affecting performance to date, and he well deserved the Oscar nomination he received for the role.

Adding color and light to the production is a truly amazing attention to period detail in costuming, sets, and even the smallest of props and, it must be said, John Williams' jaw-dropping music. It's only appropriate, for a film about subterfuge and fakery, that Williams' score contains not just homages to but blatant theft from other composers. Let's just say it — Williams has been stealing from his own previous work for years. But this time he steals from other (dare we say better?) sources, copying Bernard Herrmann and Leonard Bernstein with unapologetic wit, and tossing in elements of fairly well-known jazz songs without shame. The result is Williams' most distinct — and listenable — score in over a decade, as well as cannily underscoring the very themes of the film.

Ultimately, Spielberg succumbs to the same problem he's had with most of his later films — he doesn't know where to stop. Catch Me runs the risk of wearing out its welcome at a rather bloated 141 minutes, and the director utterly disregards what ought to be poignant irony at the film's conclusion — that Abagnale's salvation comes from joining the very people who put him jail — going instead for a straightforward, saccharine tie-up of his themes. But the journey to that point is so much fun that we must forgive Steve for not wanting the ride to end — and for being unable to resist giving Abagnale a happy ending.

*          *          *

The two-disc Catch Me If You Can DVD from DreamWorks Home Entertainment offers the film in a pristine anamorphic transfer (1.85:1). This is a bright, shiny movie for the most part (with a vaguely soft-edged quality courtesy of Spielberg's cinematographer Janusz Kaminski) that has rich, saturated colors, and it looks very good. English audio options include DTS 5.1, Dolby Digital 5.1, and Dolby 2.0 Surround; dialogue is crisp and clean, and Williams' score is well represented.

Disc Two holds the bonus features. The 17-minute Behind the Camera featurette offers the usual "making-of" stuff, albeit cleverly presented with lots of sound bites from cast and crew; Cast Me If You Can offers short five-to-seven-minute featurettes on the principal actors — DiCaprio, Hanks, Walken, Martin Sheen, Nathalie Baye, and Amy Adams, plus Jennifer Garner, who has a pivotal role as a savvy hooker; Scoring Catch Me If You Can looks at Williams' music for the film; Frank Abagnale: Between Reality and Fiction looks at the real-life con man and his "careers," including a short piece wherein Abagnale tells an abbreviated version of how he finessed pretending to be a pilot; The FBI Perspective, possibly the best of the features, looks at the FBI's technical advisor on the film, what he contributed, and details a lot of interesting stuff about security and check-forging; and In Closing has Abagnale discussing his final reactions to the film based on his story. There's also a still gallery, cast-and-crew notes, and production notes.

— Dawn Taylor

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