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Catch Me If You Can (widescreen)

review by Zach B.

 

 

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (Some sexual content and brief language)

Running Time: 141 minutes

Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hanks, Christopher Walken, Martin Sheen, Nathalie Baye

Screenplay by: Jeff Nathanson
Based upon the book by: Frank W. Abagnale with Stan Redding

Directed by: Steven Spielberg

 

Studio: Dreamworks

Retail Price: $29.99

Features: "Catch Me If You Can": Behind the Camera, Cast Me if You Can: The Casting of the Film, Scoring "Catch Me If You Can," Frank Abagnale: Between Reality and Fiction, The FBI Perspective, "Catch Me If You Can": In Closing, Photo Galleries, Cast and Filmmakers Biographies, Production Notes

Specs: 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen, English Dolby Digital 5.1, English DTS 5.1, English Dolby Surround, French Dolby Digital 5.1, English Subtitles, Spanish Subtitles, French Subtitles, Scene Index (24 Scenes)

Released: May 6th, 2003

 

 

Frank Abagnale, Jr. (Leonardo DiCaprio) may seem like your ordinary teenager. Living in the New York area in the 1960s, Frank seems to have a penchant for charming his way into and out of unique situations - something he seems to have learned from his own father (Christopher Walken), who he greatly respects and admires. But soon Frank's humble life gradually shatters as his father faces trouble with the IRS and his mother (Nathalie Baye) becomes unfaithful. This all leads to a breaking point when Frank's parents decide to get a divorce. Forced to choose between his mother and father, Frank picks himself up and runs away. Armed with some checks and his unique personality, Frank thinks he can make it on his own. And boy, does he ever.

Frank needs money, and soon discovers the wonderful world of forgery and being a fraud. While this "honest man" is a bit unsuccessful at first, Frank soon maneuvers his way into becoming a respected Pan Am pilot and learns how to create fraudulent checks. But that's not all as Frank soon jumps to being a successful doctor and then a lawyer (all before he's twenty-one no less). As Frank continues his fraud schemes and clever impersonations that everyone he meets takes to heart, there's one man who's hot on his trail. That'd be FBI agent Carl Hanratty (Tom Hanks), who Frank even fools the first time they meet. But while Hanratty seems intent on bringing him to justice, it's hard not to empathize with Frank and his own personal motives that drives what he does.

A big hit during the Christmas 2002 season with moviegoers and critics (the film made well over 100 million dollars domestically), it's really hard for anyone to resist the great, breezy fun of "Catch Me If You Can." People are always fascinated when someone pulls off something unbelievable, hard or unusual - especially when they are so young. People are easily amazed and don't always care for the specifics, but it's the details within Abagnale's story that makes the movie so interesting. And while there is a real Frank Abagnale, Jr. and he really was a pilot, doctor and lawyer in addition to being a master forger, it's a bit obvious that the film is pretty dramatized (not that there is anything wrong with that). Nonetheless, the man, like his story, is fascinating. And it doesn't hurt one bit that this movie tells a great version of his story so damn well.

Screenwriter Jeff Nathanson (probably best known for scripting the second "Rush Hour" movie or perhaps worse - "Speed 2: Cruise Control") adapted "Catch Me If You Can" for the screen (from the book by the real Abagnale and Stan Redding), and it's definitely a wonderful screenplay that is not only well-written, but masterly crafted simply due to the fact that the film's story and characters work on a variety of different - and always satisfying - levels. While I can't compare Nathanson's work to the book since I've never read it, like I said early, I'm pretty sure the film is a bit dramatized and is made slightly more fun and loopy. I do know for a fact though that the Carl Hanratty character never quite existed, but rather, is a composite of agents that chased after the real Abagnale.

What makes Nathanson's script so compelling is how he creates and builds up the story. The plot is not only coherent, but the Abagnale's tale is quite even and is never overdone, even as crazy as it all might seem. I think that's integral to the film, because no matter how unusual and entertaining it is to see the young Abagnale become wrapped up in new situations and new professions (not bad for a high school dropout), it's always believable despite some suspicious coincidences (and that's also testament to the trademark directing power of Spielberg). "Catch Me If You Can" can be a serious story at times, but Nathanson always makes the story exciting and fun - especially with the close calls with Hanratty and when Frank is on the verge of being caught off guard in some other ways. The dialogue is sharp, witty and snappy plus there is a fine dose of good-natured, smile-worthy humor.

As great as all of that is, I think what's most important and what makes the script so great is that Nathanson never loses focus of the characters and what makes them tick. If they weren't so intriguing or well-developed, the movie wouldn't be nearly as good. All the characters feel real and are three-dimensional: they all have something to prove, they all want something and they all have their own insecurities to deal with. The themes of family and yearning for that kind of security run high throughout the film.

You see, the destruction of his parents marriage causes Frank to run away, and he sees his father's financial troubles as one reason why his parents broke up. Frank tries urging his father to get them back together, and offers him gifts, romantic ideas and money - something his father is not quite interested in. Frank's attempts to reconcile his parents and reclaim the past is something that is easily sensed from the start, almost as if Frank's fate in everything has always been sealed. When Frank Sr.'s father tells Frank Jr. that his mother no longer wants to see her ex-husband and that she has a new life, the young Frank panics and sees carrying on with his escapades worthless since there is no chance of his parents getting back together. Then there is a scene toward the end of the film involving Frank Jr.'s Mom rings true and is ultimately heartbreaking as well as painful, yet in a way, perfectly symbolic.

All of that gives us sympathy toward the young Frank, not to mention that he is such a likable guy. Even if he is breaking the law over and over again, we come to care about him even if he technically is the bad guy. But the movie never establishes Frank's persona in a negative way, and that's certainly a strength since it makes the audience create a certain kind of perception, one that is never fully alluded to but must be felt by what happens. All of this ends up establishing Frank as charming, heartwarming and who we end up rooting for.

Then we have Carl Hanratty, who's own personal life is a bit mysterious but becomes a bit more concise as the film moves along. Carl, like Frank, is also lonely and once had a real family. He has a daughter, but it's implied they're somewhat estranged and that he is trying to suppress the past. All of this is a strong link which truly connects them. And while Carl is never established as the bad guy either (just a man who's trying to do his job), it creates some conflicting thoughts. We're not exactly rooting for Carl, but in some way, we do want him to get Frank. Carl is also a likable if wry type of guy, and he's certainly a great character who we also end up caring for.

What I also loved about "Catch Me If You Can" is how unusually symbolic it is. Frank Jr. and Carl's lives are linked again as far as the country of France goes (where the two meet up and where Frank's parents originally met), which provides closure to a rather round circle of chase and development. The symbolism of the comic "Flash" is more straightforward but nonetheless great, and then are quite a few more things. Most notable is the use of the train and the room Frank stays in when he calls Carl, that being 3113. It deals with a reversal of roles and thoughts between the two, not to mention 13 could be considered unlucky.

The elder Frank Abagnale's speech about the two mice, often referred to in the film, nicely complements the never-quit attitude Frank Jr. and Carl share. The man the young Frank's mother ends up having an affair with and marries is not only a family friend but the president of the Rotary club, which symbolizes support and service - making it perfect when Frank Jr. discovers and offers him back his pin. Frank Jr. being like James Bond and how he gets caught in such amazing adventures is obvious, while flying is a metaphor for escape. The spill on the carpet Frank's mother makes while dancing with his father could mean something, but then we have the family related chats, sad realizations and discoveries happen around Christmas. Perhaps for these characters it's really not such a happy holiday filled with warmth and memories of family.

A lot of people know "Catch Me If You Can" was in the works for awhile before master storyteller Steven Spielberg took the helm. Directors such as Gore Verbinski (who has directed much some of Dreamworks' modest mainstream films) and Lasse Hallstrom were going to take up the project but ultimately went on to other things. Soon Spielberg just grabbed hold of the movie and just made it. It's quite clear that he was the perfect man for the job.

It's pretty apparent what attracted Spielberg to this project so much, as his own story parallels Frank Abagnale, Jr.'s story. Spielberg has made it no secret that the divorce of his parents greatly affected him, as subjects that center around divorce (being lonely, alienation) have been in many of his movies. Spielberg makes the film's emotional core very absorbing as he puts together some nice, poignant scenes in a surprising, un-Spielberg manner: they feel more true than usual, and are not overly manipulative or sugarcoated. "Catch Me If You Can" arguably deals directly with divorce the most out of all Spielberg's films. We all know that divorce is something that's not pretty and is hurtful, and for Spielberg going through that, maybe he knew to make it something front and center as well as realistic. It's nice to see that he didn't hide what divorce is about or run over in interesting ways. That certainly helps the movie a lot.

The divorce themes is not the only reason why Spielberg was perfect to direct "Catch Me If You Can." For those are familiar with Spielberg's life, he was a little bit of a con man and liar himself - particularly how he snuck his way on to the Universal Studios lot and ended up integrating into the studio (and I guess there's also the fact that he manipulates and charms audiences so well with his movies). Perhaps Spielberg saw himself within Abagnale. No matter what exactly attracted him to the project and how he pulled it off, "Catch Me If You Can" is a different kind of Spielberg film. No, it's not an anti one or anything, but besides not manipulating the audience with its themes and emotions, Spielberg continues to show depth as a filmmaker despite his illuminated career.

While I wouldn't call "Catch Me If You Can" raw in its style, it's visual style is a little less polished and clean cut than the usual Spielberg flick. This certainly adds a good flavor to the movie. There are some very nice shots and the film is well edited, but Spielberg understands and really handles Nathan's screenplay so well. The film runs a little bit over two hours, but it goes by so quickly - you almost swear to yourself that it is much shorter. Spielberg makes sure Nathanson's even script stays even. It never becomes absurd or incredibly far off course - the characters, themes and emotions stay centered and honest. You get to know everything well enough (the past of the Abagnale family, Frank Jr.'s journeys and the aftermath) and marvel at everything that is so remarkable about Abagnale (how he becomes a pilot, how he sweet talks his way into things, how he learns to be a doctor, how he learns to be a lawyer and how he handles other people). Not only are you immensely entertained by the end of the movie, but you've come to really know the characters and history in that you get something out of Abagnale's experiences.

I know I've made "Catch Me If You Can" seem like a pretty serious film, but it's really fun and certainly one of the best mainstream movies I've ever seen that defines the word "crowd-pleaser." The film is a bit too superfluous for it's own good, but it's quirky storyline makes it so interesting. The film is light, airy and always enjoyable. Like I mentioned, the humor is certainly funny, even if it is a bit underplayed. But what makes it all so fun and entertaining is that it's really such a special, one-of-a-kind cat and mouse caper with creative, natural progression. The characters pull you right in, but it's seeing how Frank trains in all these professions with his own ways and how he pulls it all off, just prancing and charging his way charismatically but gracefully through scenario after scenario, that's what makes it all so treasurable. And then you have the moments with Frank and Carl. How they play off each other. How Carl gets closer and closer and how Frank always seems to evade him thanks to his clever street smarts. Those moments are always enthralling because of the personality the characters have and how great Tom Hanks and Leonardo DiCaprio are, not to mention you never know how it's going to go the first time you see the movie. Believe it or not, a lot develops between these two characters that really support the film. Spielberg has created a very lean, straightforward film that is much more masterful in what it presents than what most people will give it credit for.

If there was one thing I didn't exactly care for in the movie, it's how things are structured. The film actually begins toward the end of Frank's tale, in some pseduo-flashback. It starts after the climax and then is basically a trip down memory lane, only to be interrupted by scarce, short scenes in the present. Then, when it reaches a certain point, the film goes forward. To be honest, I really didn't see much of a use for telling the story this way. It's not horrible and it does work, and while it has grown on me a little, I really didn't like it. I would have preferred if the tale was woven in a more straightforward manner

You also can't get much better than the film's acting ensemble. For those who doubt Leonardo DiCaprio's talent as an actor and only see him for his role in "Titanic" and as a pretty boy, then they must see "Catch Me If You Can." DiCaprio scores what may be his greatest role yet, one that seems he was born to play. DiCaprio is not only incredibly personal, but wildly charismatic. The film basically rests on DiCaprio's performance since it is Abagnale Jr.'s story, and if he's not convincing or suave enough, then it's hard to swallow. But thankfully, DiCaprio GREATLY exceeds every expectation and perfectly brings to life such a wonderful character. He's quick on his feet, he's captivating and he's incredibly charming. He dons many accents through the films as well as some great mannerisms and emotions - particularly how desperate and sad he is when it comes to family. You basically believe he is Abagnale and that he can get away with everything. DiCaprio certainly shines here - quite boldly, charismatically and brightly. This may have just been one of the most underrated performances of last year, showing DiCaprio's true range and talent as an actor.

The supporting performances are nice too. It's been awhile since we've seen Tom Hanks in a supporting role - or one this fun outside of a romantic comedy, but that doesn't make him any less important in the movie. While I wouldn't call his role as FBI agent Carl Hanratty a full lead, it is more than your usual supporting performance. Hanks seemed to have a great time making the movie, and that certainly translates on screen. Hanks, with his lonely but persistent demeanor and Boston accent, is just a joy to watch. Yes it's a different role for him, but that's what makes it so great. It's a great change of pace that is just fun and in some ways, dramatically subdued. He and DiCaprio, as stated earlier, really play off each other well and do make a good team.

Then we have another pivotal performance and the one that got the most (and well-deserved) kudos. Christopher Walken as the senior Frank Abagnale was just brilliant casting, and was basically the anti-Walken role. He's quite good, as it's not Walken going over-the-top and acting like a maniac. Instead, it's a more dramatic and subtle performance that is well underplayed. He shares a great bond with DiCaprio, and it's quite easy to see why he's such a great father figure to the young Frank. He's charming, graceful and quite protective of his own, even if he does get battered down and tries to set things right in his own way. Simply put, Walken really just nails the whole idea of the character in the movie and is quite an asset. Other supporting roles from Martin Sheen, Amy Adams, French actress Nathalie Baye plus Jennifer Garner in a very brief scene are quite good too.

There are also little things to enjoy about the movie that also really suck you in. John Williams once again composes a brilliant score, perfectly capturing a sense of mystery and this light cat and mouse caper. The score is catchy and features wonderful feeling. The zippy score flawlessly fits into the film and reflects it, be it in the jazzy sects or more quiet moments. The film's production design from Jeannine Oppewall is equally stellar. Everything looks quite accurate from the 1960s time period (not to mention incredibly detailed), and you really feel like you're watching something from that era. On a different note, the film's retro, animated opening title sequence is simply wonderful.

I personally think that "Catch Me If You Can" ranks as one of Spielberg's all time best films. It's nice to see him still go in new directions, and make a light-hearted film that is not only fun and entertaining, but offers strong themes and so much depth. Spielberg has not done something like this in quite awhile, if on certain merits, ever in his filmmaking career as a director. Top it all off with excellent acting, and you have a wonderful way to spend nearly two-and-a-half hours. No matter what, "Catch Me If You Can" is well worth catching.

 

Presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen (a seperate full screen version is out there in case any of you desire it), "Catch Me If You Can" looks pretty good, but the transfer seems intent on capturing a more classic old-time movie look, almost to reflect the film's 1960s time period. The transfer is by no means lousy and has good qualities to it, but its flaws are distracting. The worst offender seems to be its inherent soft, hazy look. The transfer could have been much sharper but instead it looks almost like it's a dream sequence throughout the entire film. I found this disappointing since I think it ruins some of the film's visual luster, and leaves it open to notice more distractions.

The film has some great, glossy production values but they look a bit lost in the image here. Contrast is a bit too high on this transfer, as there is a truckload of edge halos, a whole heap of noise and quite a bit of shimmering. It does get very annoying very fast, making it all pretty unpleasant. There is some dirt pieces, scratches and blemishes on the transfer as well, not to mention its a little bit grainy. The film does look better and clears up a bit as it goes along, but the flaws do remain. Still, on the plus side, color saturation is quite fitting and rather nice and there's no edge enhancment to speak of. Detail is petty good and the fleshtones are pretty spot on. However, in the end, this transfer doesn't seem to reflect the film as well as it should, and that's disappointing.

 

There are a few audio options here, and they are pretty good. "Catch Me If You Can" includes Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1 tracks, and these definitely live up to the film is about. Granted, "Catch Me If You Can" isn't really filled with so much use of boisterous surrounds - it definitely is a dialogue driven picture. With that said, the dialogue out of the mouths of the actors sound great - everything is clear and easy to hear on both tracks. John Williams score shines nicely through both tracks, creating a well-rounded ambiance that helps pull you into the movie that sounds great. The score is well-mixed and moves very nicely and fills the channels in a very strong way. As far as surrounds... there aren't as much as you'd expect. Most of the surrounds are used for more tiny things, such as the rain pouring or things being smashed down (like when Frank and his nurse companion are making out in his office and the books fall). For big surround scenes, like when Carl and Frank meet up in France, the noises do give a good "oomph" to the speakers. The subwoofer use isn't much in each track, but when it's used, it's pretty good. Out of the two 5.1 mixes, this is one of the rare cases where I actually preferred the Dolby Digital track, even if each is pretty similar and are rather neck and neck. The DTS is a bit tighter, but the Dolby Digital is a bit more broad and fun and that I felt really compensated with the film better. Still, no matter which you choose, each are great and nicely balanced. Also included is a Dolby Digital 5.1 track in French, an English Dolby Surround track as well as subtitles in English, French and Spanish.

 

Kind of like Frank Abagnale, Jr. himself, this two-disc set "Catch Me If You Can" is a bit decieving. The first disc is devoted to the lengthy movie, while the second disc houses the supplements. While the stuff here is great, it's not as much as you might expect. Starting things off is "Catch Me If You Can": Behind the Camera. Lasting a little over seventeen minutes, it's hard to not enjoy this fun look behind-the-scenes of this enjoyable film. Besides your usual on the set footage and stills, interviews with Steven Spielberg, the real Frank Abagnale, Jr., screenwriter Jeff Nathanson, producer Walter F. Parkes, production designer Jeannine Oppewall, director of photography Janusz Kaminski, Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hanks and a few people who go unidentified. Spielberg talks about taking on the project, his relationship with Kaminski and what he saw for it, Nathanson talks about working on the script and what appealed to him about Abagnale's story and many just discuss the main appeal of the film, Abagnale's ability to transform himself and what the film covers and how it was put together (I particuarly enjoyed Oppewall's comments). Well worth watching to give you an on the set look of how this "rich dessert" was made.

Cast Me if You Can: The Casting of the Film is broken down into five sections: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hanks, Frank's Parents (Christopher Walken and Nathalie Baye), The Strong Family (Martin Sheen and Amy Adams) and Jennifer Garner. All of these segments total a little over twenty-eight minutes. Through film clips, on the set footage, stills and interviews (particuarly with producer Walter F. Parkes, Steven Spielberg and some charming ones with the real Frank W. Abagnale, Jr.), here we learn a bit more about the characters and who they were really based on and how they were modified for the film. The actors are interviewed about their characters, other characters, the film and do give some very nice insights, plus there are some really nice production stories to go with them all (I personally enjoyed seeing Christopher Walken really making a strong scene quite poignant). All of these are great and are quite entertaining, and really help you understand the characters a bit more and what the actors brought to their roles.

Scoring "Catch Me if You Can" only lasts nearly five-and-a-half minutes, but that's okay since John Williams is one of my favorite composers and I'm always thrilled to hear the man out and see him work. With a few film clips to show examples and behind-the-scenes footage of him conducting, Williams is interviewed (and mentions this is the 20th film he's done with Spielberg) and talks about why the film is so appealing to him. Williams is well spoken and talks about his influences on the score and what he was going for. Steven Spielberg chimes in with a few comments, and there's also a little on actual songs used in the film and how those fit. What I think is one of Williams' best score is covered here in a short but great manner. If you liked it a tiny bit, then you owe yourself to watch this excellent piece.

Frank Abagnale: Between Reality and Fiction is broken up into four parts that total a bit over twelve minutes. Basically, it highlights the real Frank chronogically. With stills and film clips, Frank is quite frank about his real life experiences from his beginnings, how he became a pilot, what careers he sought, how he was caught and what he did with his life thereafter. The real Frank is just as captivating and charming as Leonardo DiCaprio in the movie, so it's hard to not get caught up in what he's saying. Nonetheless, these segments make a great companion in comparing his real life to the events in the film (they're just as interesting). Simply excellent.

The FBI Perspective is a seven minute, five second featurette that has an interview with Steven Spielberg, film clips and on-the-set footage. But the main focus of this featurette is FBI technial advisor William J. Rehder, who served as a consultant on the movie. His voice is a bit monotone, but we see the man in action on the set and hear his own thoughts in helping to get the FBI-based details just right. He gives insights on to crimes in the 1960s, how agents looked in the era, what they did and how this film was basically right up his ally. Pretty interesting insights, and it seems the film got everything he said all right.

The last featurette, "Catch Me If You Can": In Closing basically wraps some final thoughts up in a tiny bit under five minutes. The real Abagnale informs us that 90% of the film is accurate, and of course, you get more on-the-set footage and film clips. Interviews with the real Frank Abagnale, Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg just gives us a few final thoughts on the movie, what they all respond to in it and just how great fun it is. Sure we've heard most of this before already and we can put the words in these people's mouths, but it all wraps things up smoothly and is entertaining. The real Abagnale seems happy with the final product which is definitely a good thing. And this featurette ends with credits for the DVD supplements.

Finally, under the "Archives" section you'll find three different (and well stocked) Photo Galleries. One for the cast, one for behind the scenes and the last for costumes. You'll also find some nicely detailed Cast and Filmmaker Biographies plus two sets of terrific, interesting Production Notes: "Colorful Characters" and "A Colorful Time." Be sure to read those.

On a different note, the menus for the disc disc are pretty nifty. You get to choose three different Abagnale characters (on the first disc) as based on the film's opening title sequence and your menus are based upon that. The supplements have subtitles in English, French and Spanish (nice!) but I was really disappointed that the video supplements themselves were not in amamorphic widescreen. That just baffled me.

 

"Catch Me If You Can" ranks not only as one of my top ten favorite films of 2002, but I think it is one of Spielberg's best and most endearing. Filled with outstanding performances and a strong story, it also delivers a satisfying emotional punch. If you're a fan of the movie you won't be terribly excited by this release, but you won't be disappointed either. The extras, while slightly sparse, are certainly enjoyable, insightful and very welcome while the sound mixes shine but the transfer is somewhat of a disappointment. Nonetheless, "Catch Me If You Can" is worth picking up. It's certainly the perfect kind of movie you'll pull out again and again to watch when you're looking for some great entertainment.