CATCH ME IF YOU CAN
Reviewed May 11th, 2003 by David Nusair
It probably goes without saying that, at this point in his career, Steven Spielberg has final cut. But that's not necessarily a good thing, especially when you consider that every single one of his films since 1991's Hook has been over two hours. Many of these movies would have been seriously improved had he been forced to show them to a test audience and told which sequences were superfluous. His latest, Catch Me If You Can, is probably his worst offender thus far in terms of length; running close to two and half hours, the film would've been vastly improved had it been trimmed down to 90 minutes.
The film casts Leonardo DiCaprio as Frank Abagnale Jr, a 16-year-old with an unusual talent for mimicry. In an early sequence, we see Frank step into a new classroom and convince his fellow students that he is, in fact, their new supply teacher. It's that fascination with assuming different identities that eventually leads to Frank's eventual downfall, as he winds up swindling various corporations (and even people) out of close to $5 million.
Unlike some of Spielberg's recent films, Catch Me If You Can isn't designed for anything more than escapist entertainment. There are no lofty intentions here; Spielberg's revisiting his roots, in a manner of speaking, by crafting a movie that's fun. Though there are some serious moments, the film has a breezy atmosphere that certainly helps keep boredom at bay - especially during some of the more needless sequences. DiCaprio, as Frank, gives one of his very best performances, here playing virtually the polar opposite of his character in the recent Gangs of New York. Frank is the sort of person that gives into each and every one of his whims, no matter how small or big. It's the sort of character that, in the wrong hands, could come off as smug and egotistical, but DiCaprio infuses Frank with a sense of wonder that's quite appropriate. This is a kid, essentially, who's doing things that most adults won't experience.
Equally good (if not better) is Tom Hanks as Carl Hanratty, the determined FBI man out to capture Frank. Sporting a convincing enough Boston accent, Hanks is just as charming as ever, even though he's technically playing someone we should be rooting against. The supporting cast is peppered with familiar faces, from Martin Sheen to Jennifer Garner, but it's Christopher Walken (as Frank's father) who makes the biggest impact. The core of the film is the relationship between Frank and his father, and Walken is completely convincing as this man who's happy for his son, but too proud to accept any of the benefits of his success.
But as marvelous as the cast is and though the story is quite interesting, Spielberg doesn't know when to call it quits. Catch Me If You Can is the most frustratingly overlong movie since Meet Joe Black, another film that would've been so much better had it been trimmed down to 90 minutes. Here, most of the scenes go on for a minute or two longer than they should and there are whole sequences that should have been excised. For example, Garner pops up midway through as a prostitute that seduces Frank. It's a six-minute scene that doesn't add a single thing to the film, and could have easily been removed. It's point was likely to show that Frank is doing things that most teenagers aren't, but we've already established that. It's superfluous elements like that which make Catch Me If You Can an entertaining enough way to spend two and a half hours, but with this director and this cast, it should have been so much more.
Audio: Catch Me If You Can comes armed with both a DD 5.1 and DTS 6.1 soundtrack, and they’re both phenomenal. The DTS track holds an advantage, if only because it’s got quite a bit more presence to it, but they’re both quite effective.
Video: Ditto this 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer. It’s just as crisp and clean as you’d expect a new Spielberg flick to be, though the whole thing does have a soft, hazy glow about it – but presumably, that’s intended.
Extras: Catch Me If You Can comes equipped with an entire second disc of extras, with the first disc used only for the feature. What we get is a series of featurettes. The first is entitled Behind the Camera; running 16-minutes, it’s a short rundown of pretty much all the facets of the production – from how Spielberg came to be involved to the period costume design. The next section details the casting of the film, and runs about 28-minutes (after you hit the “play all” option). This consists of short (around five-minute) pieces on each of the major actors – including DiCaprio, Hanks, Martin Sheen, and Jennifer Garner – and how they came to be cast. There’s not that much information to be gleaned here, but it does remain somewhat interesting. Up next is a five-minute doc on the scoring sessions for the film, which consists mostly of an interview with John Williams. Williams talks about his eagerness in tackling this jazzy score, and we also hear from Spielberg. Interesting, if you’re into that sort of thing. Next is a set of four featurettes about Frank Abagnale – without a “play all” option, which is kind of obnoxious. Still, all four of these are pretty interesting; we learn a lot about Abagnale that the movie left out (he worked as a doctor for a full year before quitting!) Up next is a seven-minute look at the accuracy of how the FBI is portrayed in the film. This consists mostly of an interview with a former agent of the Bureau who worked on the film as a technical advisor. He points out that the film is about as close to the 1960s FBI as it’s possible to get, and we even see him showing Hanks the ‘60s way of holding a gun. Next is a concluding five-minute piece in which the various participants talk about what the film means to them. Worth it if only for the revelation that Spielberg himself was something of a conman as a 16-year-old, as he bluffed his way onto the Universal lot every day for a summer. Finally, the disc includes an archive section – which houses cast/crew biographies, a photo gallery, and production notes.
Conclusion: Catch Me If You Can is a flawed, albeit fun, Spielberg movie worth checking out if only for the performances.
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