Based on true events, Catch Me If You Can would have made a compelling film regardless of who directed it. A compelling documentary, even. But with Steven Spielberg behind the camera, the film was a sure-fire hit and was a thrilling, fast-paced rollercoaster ride of creative conmanism.
Set in the 1960's, the film follows teenager Frank Abagnale Jr. (Leonardo Di Caprio) who learns that not only is his father (Christopher Walken) ruined but his parents are getting a divorce. Looking to find a way to fix that somehow, financially at least, Frank sets out to assume various identities and con banks with the help of fake cheques. He becomes co-pilot for an airline, a doctor and a lawyer among other things. Along the way, he is pursued by Tom Hanks' FBI agent Carl Hanratty whom he manages to trick over and over, always leaving him one step behind. It's a relentless cat and mouse game right up until the movie's final shot and although the film takes time-outs here and there for important, quieter moments, it's pretty much non-stop from the get-go.
Frank's relationship with his father is a touching, heartfelt one and brings some welcome real moments to an otherwise screwball tale. It's also a coming of age story where Leonardo Di Caprio, through a subtle, beautifully defined performance, makes his character grow-up slowly but surely as the years fly by and his con starts to consume him, becoming almost an addiction. The film boasts some brilliant performances all around: Walken proves to be an inspired choice and the two leads knock it out of the park. Expect some fun appearances by the likes of Jennifer Garner, Amy Adams and Martin Sheen also. The film's style is decidedly 60's and the fantastic animated opening titles sequence, to the sound of an unforgettable score by John Williams, promises charm, class and fun, which the film most definitely delivers.
Catch Me If You Can is not only a tense, nail-biting thriller but it's an effective comedy, much more so than, say, Spielberg's The Terminal, which overdid the schmaltz and the whimsy only a couple of years later. Sure it has its emotional moments and Frank's adventure is mostly a tragic one but his story is told with a light-hearted flair and the tone remains playful throughout. You never know what trick the kid will pull on the FBI next. Frank's larger-than-life journey is given a holiday feel which puts us in the teenager's mindset but Spielberg never forgets to even things out with the odd sobering moment. Watch out for a moving Christmas-themed scene near the end of the flick.
Catch Me If You Can is a gorgeous-looking film with all the inventive visual touches you'd expect from a Steven Spielberg movie. It's funny to think that this is the film that followed Minority Report, a dark, occasionally twisted sci-fi actioner with eyeball transplants, face-melting injections and metal spiders but after that and downer A.I.: Artificial Intelligence, Spielberg probably wanted to try his hand at something a little brighter and less depressing. This is quite probably one of the director's all-time breeziest, most accessible films and yet it still manages to feel like one of his, never becoming standard, familiar or unoriginal.
Full of charm, heart and packed with perfect performances, Catch Me If You Can is definitely one to watch. It may not be the first film you think of when you think Spielberg but it's by far one of his most spot-on comedies and one of his best releases in the 2000s. Leonardo Di Caprio's pitch-perfect performance alone is worth the ticket.
Catch it, if you can.