Saturday, April 29, 2017

Chris' #82: Catch Me If You Can (Steven Spielberg, 2002)

Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hanks, Christopher Walken, Amy Adams, Martin Sheen
Director: Steven Spielberg
Writer: Jeff Nathanson (based on the book by Frank Abagnale Jr. and Stan Redding)
Release Date: December 25, 2002

Availability: Streaming on HBO Now/Go

First Time
I was in the tenth grade when this was released. Maybe I saw it in the theater during Christmas break, but I have no memory of anything like that. Brent, my older brother, owned the DVD and I remember watching it on the small screen in 2003 multiple times.

Why it's on the List
This beats out Jurassic Park and E.T. as my favorite Spielberg film (for now). When I rewatched Catch Me If You Can the other day, I kept that thought in mind and tried to assess the accuracy of that ranking. If I had to choose to rewatch one of those three movies right now, I'm not sure that I could decide. All three scratch a very different itch, and I think that speaks to what Spielberg has accomplished over the last 4-5 decades.

Brandon talked about how the recent work of Spielberg has put the "patsy" talk of his critics to bed. I enjoyed Lincoln and Bridge of Spies quite a bit, but 2002 was also a pretty good year for Spielberg. Minority Report isn't on my list, and I haven't seen it since the early 2000s, but I remember being impressed by it. Catch Me If You Can has really stuck with me over the past fourteen years. It's highly entertaining, and even though the running time is two hours and twenty minutes, that time really flies by when you watch it.

I had forgotten how young Leonard DiCaprio looks in this. He was 28 or so when this was shot, but he looks at least ten years younger than that. The real Frank Abagnale Jr. was able to pose as a substitute teacher, a pilot, a doctor, and a lawyer because he looked much older than he was. If there's a flaw in the film, it might be Leo's youthful countenance. I've read that the real Abagnale expressed doubts that Leo was the right guy for the role, but after the two met, Frank became convinced. And that is what's so great about Leo in this film--he convinces you that he is who he says he is. We're all aware that DiCaprio can be a real charmer, but looking through his filmography, this role might be one of the most endearing.

Frank Abagnale Jr. is pretty likable, even though he was a criminal; I enjoy movies that can effectively pull that off. There are some interesting parallels between Abagnale and Jordan Belfort--both spent years ripping off banks and wealthy people. And while Belfort is definitely more of a scumbag, there are some gray areas (for me) concerning some of his crimes. The stigma applied to criminals is not always a fair one, and I feel that Catch Me If You Can does a nice job of showing that.

Of course, Frank's story is also exhibit A in the case of white male privilege; if anyone denies its existence, simply put this movie on or lend the book. Confident white men have and will always be given the benefit of the doubt in ways that women and people of color could only dream of. It's pretty comical that Frank gets away with pretending to be something he's not, but we can also understand how easy that is for him, especially now. The film never acknowledges race (in fact, I'm pretty sure this is an all white cast), but fifteen years ago, "white privilege" and "white male privilege" were not colloquial terms.

I don't fault the film for any of this, and I like some of the points that it is able to make about public perception. In one scene, Frank tells FBI agent Carl Hanratty (Tom Hanks) that, "People only know what you tell them." The information that we choose to reveal about ourselves is all very calculated, and is often taken at face value. I hate to keep bringing up the last election on here, but many Trump voters/supporters will tell you that they're not racist. Simply stating that is enough to convince lot of people, but that doesn't work for me. Telling me you're not racist or that you're a good person doesn't mean anything. Prove it. Live it. I also find the discussions over "why the Yankees always win" to be intriguing. Frank and his father would have you believe that it's because of their uniforms--they dress like winners--but Agent Hanratty, a more rational man, will tell you that it's because they have talented players like Babe Ruth. We shouldn't overlook the possibility that they can both be right.

Speaking of Hanratty, I do enjoy Tom Hanks in this. That might seem like an obvious thing to say, as Hanks is one of the beloved people in this country, but I'm not really a fan (I don't dislike him, I'm just indifferent). But in Catch Me If You Can, Hanks plays a guy who's all business and completely humorless. As the exact opposite of Frank, Hanratty makes no attempts to be likable...and that's what I like most about him. I love the scene where Frank and Carl meet each other for the first time in a Los Angeles hotel room. There's some nice tension there, and it's a fun, well-shot sequence.

I also found myself contemplating Frank's motivations during my rewatch. He seems to enjoy conning people (and he makes check forgery an art-form), but the only thing he truly cares about is his parents getting back together. As Hanratty notes near the end of the film, "sometimes it's easier living the lie." Frank Jr. gets lost in a fantasy world because his reality is too difficult for him to handle. He's certainly not alone there, and mostly there aren't any causalities as a result of Frank's fantasy--though you have to feel for Amy Adams' character Brenda. We don't know if Frank loved her or not, and that part of the story feels a little cruel. But Adams is wonderful in this, as usual.

John Williams' score is another reason to dig this film. The theme gives it that Hitchcockian thriller feel. The music combined with the animation of the opening credits sequence is pretty memorable.

Additional Notes/Stats
  • This is it for Spielberg. Jaws is also great, but it's on my 200-101 list. I need to rewatch Schindler's List because I haven't seen it in a long time and I don't remember much of it. But count me as one of his supporters.
  • I'm a little surprised that there are only two DiCaprio movies on my list. I'll be talking about the other one in a couple of months.
  • Amy Adams will make one more appearance on my list. Where my Leap Year fans at?
  • That Thing You Do is another Tom Hanks movie that I enjoy....and obviously the Toy Story trilogy--none of which made my top 100. Is that wrong? This is it for Tom. I should rewatch Philadelphia and see more of his work from the 80s.


  1. Yooooo! This was gonna b on my list. It's top 4 Spielberg for me

    1. Nice, good to know I'm not alone here. I was prepared for it to just be all right after all these years, but it still holds up really well. Great film.

  2. This is definitely in my Spielberg Top 5, but there are no Spielberg films in my 100.

    I'll agree with anyone that Spielberg is one of our finest craftsmen. But I've never really fallen in love with a Spielberg film.