Steven Spielbergís Catch Me If You Can

Steven Spielbergís Catch Me If You Can

Film Review 4/2/2002


Well, after more than three years now of taking in Spielberg movies, and subsequently writing negative reviews, I can finally say here is a film that I like.It's not a spectacular film but, I can give it a definite nod of approval.


What is engaging about this movie?It wouldnít seem that much could be. Itís about a con artist, and loosely based on the real guy.But, Americans like to see one of their own beat the system, if you will.And that is what got me.I couldnít help giggling as Leonardo DiCaprio (Frank Abanagle) duped suckers time and time again with a stylistic flair.I donít particularly like DíCap as a dramatic actor, but surprisingly in this one he was quite good.His phony New York accent was not too apparent, and he didnít overact as he did in that sleep-fest, Titanic.


Spielberg hooks us with comedic sequences that demonstrate just how gullible, average, middle-class Americans are.I say he hooks because if youíre like me, you identify with Frank Abanagle throughout his escapades.This movie is a comedy with a dramatic substrate.No, not a black comedy, it doesnít mix the dark moods with light-hearted parody.We are aware this man is slowly leading himself to destruction, but are captivated by his daring and slick wit as heís doing himself in. The drama centers on his relationship with his family, especially his father.Played by Christopher Walken, he gives a strong by small performance in this film.He sets tone from the beginning.He gives the young Abanagle not only the idea for a life of deceit, but the reason: heís slowly descending into poverty and losing all he loves.His son wants to restore this fallen patriarch to his place of honor.This core theme, however serious, does not stop Catch If Me You Can, from dealing us some of the most delicious bombastic sequences Iíve seen in a long time.Thereby, it gives us more of a reason to laugh, than reflect on the inequity of Abanagleís criminal enterprising.I found myself laughing aloud at each caper Dícap pulls and thinking: Gitíem Frank, as W.C. Fields said: Never give a sucker an even break!


If there is a sequence done to perfection in the film, itís got to be what I call the Pull a Model scene.Abanagle has set up himself up as well-paid airline pilot, and with the help of many a counterfeit check, has landed a suite in a swanky New York Hotel.He spys a famous model while entering his room and by chance strikes up a conversation.By now, we know whatís going to happen, but we donít know how our super con-man is going to pull off this romantic interlude.As the scene unfolds, we see Abanagle get the girl into his lair.They start to neck and as things get hotter, our temptress has a change of heart. The pampered bitch decides, she would like to try a little exploitation of her own. She, however wants to exploit male passion.She sets her sights on the wealthy stranger's money. You get the impression this woman is a well-paid, tempermental, narcissistic child. She's used to getting what she wants.She teases Abanagle with a Q &A about how much heíd pay to Ďlayí her.I was inwardly laughing, knowing whatever she gets in money, itís worthless.So, now Spielbergís got greed, lust, a spoil-brat chick, and exploitation all going on in one scene. What a rich recipe.But, if thatís not a colorful enough mixture for us, he adds the coup de grace as the scene comes to an end.The would-be lovers settle on an agreement of $1000 for sex, DíCap asks his signature line by now: Can I pay you with a check?The supermodel wants cash, but this is a hotel that will honor airline checks so she agrees.D'Cap whips out a $1,400 check and she is happy to accept it.But, he reminds her their deal is for $1,000.She coyly pulls out $400 real bucks from her bra, and calls it even.At this point, I had to laugh out loud.I thought of the degree to which this woman had just screwed herself. Why she's been screwed twice!I mean not only will he get it for free but, she will actually pay HIM for screwing HER to the tune of $400 bigginís!!! Not to mention what he's pulling on the hotel.


Can you imagine the look on the model's face when she finds out? Imagine her on the phone with one of her beauty pageant girlfriends? Here is my own dialogue of it.

Do you know what this prick did? The sonabitch gave me a bad check. That's what he did! And I let'em screw me for nothing! For nothing, zilch, nada, nothing Hazel! Did you hear what I said! Nothing! I mean I'm sick, I'm, I'm ...(She thinks of the money she gave him)..and and and to think I gave'em $400 dollars Hazel! $400 dollars! What? Why did I do that? Well, because the prick had a check for $1400, oh, forget it, don't ask me any questions. Can't you see I'm upset enough? That sonabitch is probably having lunch with my money right now? At this point she breaks down into tears realizing the degree to which she has been conned. Needless to say, she'll get cash the next time!


Itís scene like that, which makes Catch Me If You Can comedic cinema.The idea of the outrage the Ďmarksí must feel after being taken is the coin on which the humor of this film turns.Spielberg doesnít revisit the victims after each strike of the con man, as he shouldnít.The reaction is best left imagined. As I did above.Abanagle is a Robin Hood figure, that doesnít rob the poor, only the institutions of American culture (of course he never gives to the poor either).In this, we can identify with him as a folk hero.More than that, we can see how he uses the cultural currency of being suave, cool, good-looking, and unbelievably bold and daring to undo the trusting victims of this upper societal level.Abanagle is not a slimy telemarketer duping senior citizens out of their life savings, or a pawnbroker taking some drug addictís electronic equipment.He is getting his lucre from the very symbols of the nation: the airlines, the medical profession and the banks. And of course, Abanagle's cons invariably involve pretty but, dumb women, being used by him. The model, the receptionist at the hospital and finally a whole entourage of gullible women are used like an implement in Abanagle's hands. To be fair, many a man is taken in by Abanagle. Never however are the male characters shown in such ignominy as the women. Abanagle's favorite prey are women for sure. None of whom seem to have the smarts to ever figure out they're being conned. If there are any women liberationists left, this very glaring aspect of the film won't go down well. Hey, the Berg can always say: It's based on a true story, broads! So, quit cha whining! You know Steve, if you don't look out somebody from NOW's gonna slap your face with a tampax! Did I write that? Excuse me ladies.


This film is not about Tom Hanks (Carl Hanratty) chasing DíCap across the country, then to Europe for a dramatic capture, and rehabilitating him, as it seems to be.Itís about a man finding himself in a strange state of enabled power then letting it control him, to finally fall victim to this addictive sense of power. Itís about a man paradoxing himself.


Then there is Tom Hanks as Carl Hanratty.I didnít buy his strange Boston accent, but his performance is memorable.He's got the lonely, straight-faced, humorless, FBI agent down pat.Still, Hanks has no dimension in this film at all.We donít see his life, he has no love interests, we donít see him at home wresting with the emptiness of his lonely life.We see him chasing DíCap and consumed by his capture.This lack of scope to Hanratty serves his character well.We want to be in Abanagles's head not his. We want to focus on Abanagle's story not his.In this, Hanks has played second string well.


And, now itís time to fault the Berg just a little.Why did he have to put that escape from the airline jet in there?Itís obvious this never occurred in the criminal career of the real Abanagle.To make it worst, he has a hokie scene in which DíCap returns to his motherís home (sheís remarried a rich lawyer by now) and exchanges words with an angelic little girl inside.I mean this is cornball, in the extreme!The emotion in this scene is so out of place with the rest of the film.Itís phonier, than Abanagleís career.It moved no one, and played more like a throw back to E.T. than anything else.There are other flaws along those lines. For instance, the actress that plays his mother was bland and uninteresting. Not that her acting was substandard, just her part. Berg, ya could've given her more to do and be. Ah, but what the hell. Don't wanna give those women libbers another reason to slap your face.

Thumbs up for Catch If Me You Can . Let's see now, that's three great ones (Jaws, Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Jurassic Park) and two bad ones (AI and Minority Report) You're still ahead in my book Berg.

Ken Wais 4/2/2002

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