Cinema Signal:

Catch Me If You Can:
The Amazing True Story of the Most Extraordinary Liar in the History of Fun and Profit
by Stan Redding and Frank W. Abagnale

. "Catch Me If You Can"

A little too much self-love here, with scenes to pad it out beyond 2 hours, as though such length establishes its importance and seriousness. Still, the drama manifested in a movie length story of a chase is sure fire material for entertainment. Add to that a sterling cast and a lightness of touch of a comedic caper comedy and you have a picture that's good enough to make you ignore a few flaws.

And, oh yeah, this is a film made by Steven Spielberg, and there's something particularly interesting about that. Spielberg has established his patent on all that's good and memorable about motherhood. He did this to an embarrassing degree in "AI: Artificial Intelligence". So what does he do here? He extols the relationship between a son and his father! This could have come from Frank Abagnale, Jr.'s own account in his autobiography, the original source material, but how attached is Spielberg to the parental tie?

It was Frank, Sr's (Christopher Walken) introduction to social engineering, self promoting and devious dodges around legalities that got Jr.'s mind to work in that direction and make him the youngest man to ever get on the FBI's ten most wanted list. How strong our early impressions, often the basis of a life's path. Frank Abagnale, Jr. (Leonardo DiCaprio) took that path, widened it, paved it with phony checks and a stream of false identities, and made it his own. This story recounts how, detail by detail, he learns the fine points about checks and the banking system to the extent that he becomes an expert in check kiting and deductions about the originators of phony ones.

His exploits with increasingly sophisticated checks make him a millionaire 2 1/2 times over, while hooking FBI agent Carl Hanratty (Tom Hanks) onto his con man trail. Why wouldn't he, since his exploits include passing himself off as an airplane co-pilot, a doctor and a lawyer. Shades of that old TV drama, "The Pretender"! What sustains the dramatic flair of the film is the cat and mouse play between the pursued and the pursuer. Frank is deliciously one step ahead of fumbling agent Hanratty while taunting him with late Christmas eve phone calls to chat him up as well as to rub it in. But, there's also the serious side of Frank's essential loneliness and need to talk to someone when he can't see his father.

His love for his father is a powerful motif of the story, quickly arranging to see him upon his first check kiting successes to improve the old man's life. But money and a new cadillac are not things that Frank, Sr. can accept as a convicted and paroled felon who has lost everything except the watchdogs of the IRS and a low paying job.

Despite the fact that father Frank is betrayed by his former wife Paula (Nathalie Baye), this script, adapted from Abagnale's book by Jeff Nathanson has no visceral verbal condemnation uttered by either father or son as though the motherhood that is so sacrosanct to Spielberg is to be protected no matter what scummy act she might perpetrate. A mother is, after all, a mother. But we do see her comfortably ensconced with her new husband, Frank Sr.'s old chum, Jack Barnes (James Brolin). Some details can't be avoided even when it destroys the idealization.

When his escapes and escapades bring him to the world of medicine, in which Abagnale gains employment as a staff doctor in a hospital, he meets sweet nurse Brenda Strong (Amy Adams), sweeps her off her feet and out of the hospital and tries to salvage her souring relationship with her parents by asking her father and pillar of Georgia society, Roger Strong (Martin Sheen), for her hand in marriage. But, on the big wedding day, he's tracked to the Strong residence by Agent Hanratty and his team. He escapes once more with a failed attempt to bring Brenda along with him for the companionship he craves. But, she's being shadowed by agents and he's off on his own again.

The entire cast has a good handle on the serio-comedic style of the story. Hanks and DiCaprio's ability to play both sides of that equation explain the success and the positive energy of the movie, with considerable supporting contribution by Walken and Sheen. Technical contributions are up to director Spielberg's level of quality with superb and adaptive cinematography by Janusz Kaminski.

One can only be a fan of Spielberg's in view of his considerable range. His last film, the dark, supernatural police thriller, "Minority Report" couldn't be farther from this light romp edged with fateful consequences and its way of rendering credible a bond between two characters who occupy opposite positions on the chasm of crime. It's a study in strategy and small satisfactions.

What's not satisfying is what's unnecessary. What was said before about self-love and padding is exemplified by a scene in which Agent Hanratty, admittedly a bit of a nerdy clutz, is washing his clothes in a laundromat. It's one of several scenes that slow the pace, that are over indulgent, that add nothing to the story or its characters. Another element that is more annoying than helpful is the accent Hank's affects. One can only guess that it's an attempt on the real Abagnale's Bronxville tones, but it comes off more Massachusetts derived.

But, we'll give it these carps since it scores better than many another overlong movie in the qualities that are most important to an overall good time with a dash of ironic fatefulness. The details in the training of a super con artist is a well thought out manual of "how he did it", including the charm that made Abagnale's career possible and so outstanding.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  

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Leonardo DiCaprio as Frank W. Abagnale,
effecting another smooth getaway.

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