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Catch Me If You Can

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All-Reviews.com Movie Review: Catch Me If You Can

Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hanks
Director: Steven Spielberg
Rated: PG-13
RunTime: 140 Minutes
Release Date: December 2002
Genres: Action, Drama, Suspense


*Also starring: Christopher Walken, Martin Sheen, Jennifer Garner, Frank John Hughes, Brian Howe



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Review by Harvey Karten
3½ stars out of 4

Mistaken identity has been a popular theme for comedies and dramas from the Romans through Shakespeare up until the present day. In Fred Schepisi's 1993 movie "Six Degrees of Separation" based on the John Guare play, Paul, a charming black man, enters the plus Fifth Avenue apartment of Flan Kittredge and his wife Oisa who are entertaining a South African businessman. Paul claims to have been mugged. The Kittredges take him under their wing when Paul relates how he knows their Ivy League children and what's more passes himself off as the son of Sidney Poitier. Our modern society, then, has gone way past the comedies of Shakespeare's plays based on exchanges of personae. With identity theft on the rise, people in developed countries pass themselves off as owners of credit cards they've stolen and living replicas of dead people whose social security numbers they've adopted.

Steven Spielberg's "Catch Me If You Can" is the latest cinematic illustration of identity theft and while Steven Spielberg's is not quite Shakespearean, there is such a bevy of thematic material crammed into one hundred forty minutes that you may just wish the film were as long as "Gangs of New York." A road- and-buddy pic, a coming-of-age story, a depiction of the importance of father-son communication and a crime thriller, "Catch Me if You Can" is the picture to catch on Christmas Day-- holiday fare that's sentimental without being cloying, thrilling without a trace of the adolescent violence we're inundated with in theaters year after year.

The amazing thing is that the movie is based on a true story, one made into a book in 1980 by the eponymous "me," Frank W. Abagnale, whose name remains the same in the movie as do the names of all others in the case including the dogged F.B.I. agent who tracks the young man across continents and, through a series of phone calls he exchanges becomes a substitute dad for a seemingly self-assured yet vulnerable check forger.

The story opens with the capture of Frank W. Abagnale (Leonardo DiCaprio) by the his regular pursuer, Agent Carl Hanratty (Tom Hanks), who is to arrange for the now sickly fellow's extradition to the United States. Spielberg flashes back to the early nineteen sixties, a time of relative innocence when doors in many American homes remained unlocked. The confidence in ourselves, the belief that our fellow Americans were good people or at least those who dressed in Armani-style suits and professional uniforms provide the atmosphere that allowed Frank to get away with stealing millions through a flurry of fake checks that even the experts could not see through.

When Frank's dad, Frank W. Abagnale Sr. (Christopher Walken) is chased by the I.R.S. and ultimately divorced by his self-indulgent wife Paula (Nathalie Baye), the split has a profound effect on the sixteen-year-old high-school student, whose successful pretense as a substitute teacher gives him the idea that he can go much further. Impersonating a Pan Am co-pilot, a physician, and a lawyer, he is able to pass hundreds of fake checks only partly because the clothes make the man, more because he possesses enough charm to acquire information, hotel rooms, flights around the world, and oodles of cash. Leaving dozens of giggly young women in his path, he is surprised to fall in love with the orthodontically-challenged hospital candy-striper, Brenda Strong (Amy Adams), forcing him to reevaluate his life style which has already gone so far out of control that he is unable to become an honest man. His deepest relationship, strangely enough, is with the F.B.I. man who is chasing him, with whom he communicates by phone on lonely Christmas eves and with whom he develops a profound bond forged in part because the pursuer is himself a solitary fellow.

Filmed by Janusz Kaminski in a deserted prison in Montreal, a square in Quebec City to represent a French village, in New York outside the Waldorf Astoria with some scenes on the Coast, "Catch Me If You Can" is, like "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid," about the sort of rogue for whom the audience will root and perhaps wonder why the French police are so angry with his shenanigans in their country that they seem looking for an excuse to shoot him. Involving 100 costume changes arranged by designer Mary Zophres, the picture shows Mr. Spielberg in yet another role; not serious as he was in "Schindler's List" or "Amistad," or appealing to juveniles as in "Duel," but still delivering according to the principle "Show them something they've never seen." If the conclusion seems cynical, if we get the impression that crime ultimately pays, that's just fine: Spielberg has re-created a bandit whose ingenuity, charm and vulnerability coupled with our feeling that no individual really appears to get hurt, gives us cause to cheer.

Copyright 2002 Harvey Karten

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