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WATCH ME IF YOU CAN. Posted on 01/07/2003.

Last night I took in a showing of Spielberg's latest confection, Catch Me If You Can. Essentially, I liked it, but those who don't see it are not really missing anything. This cinematic trifle follows the teenager Frank Abagnale, Jr. as he costume-changes through a series of personas, impersonating a pilot, doctor, and lawyer while cashing fraudulent checks to pay for it all.

Perhaps because it's such a puff of air, I find the movie is quite worth discussing. Unlike Spielberg's previous two efforts (AI and Minority Report) this film is never encumbered by its own seriousness. Spielberg never weighs in too heavily with emotion, and it's happily lacking in staged shots leaden with import.

The cinematic restraint allows the actors freedom to breathe, and there is one true revelation in this film: Christopher Walken as Frank, Sr. Too long typecast as a freakish goon, Walken proves himself more than capable of being the film's heart -- Frank, Jr.'s actions are a direct result of his feelings for his dad, and if Walken hadn't made us feel for him, too, the film would simply be a shell. Walken's performance is so engaging, with such class, and a remarkable range, that the audience maintains its sympathy for Frank, Jr.'s behavior, no matter how outlandish it becomes. This is the classic "Supporting Actor" role, and a nomination (and reception) of an Oscar is deserved. (With this and his work in the Fatboy Slim video, we're seeing The Second Coming of Walken. Here's a nice feature on him.)

The films' stars perform admirably, too. The Leo backlash that occurred post-Titanic is a particularly annoying manifestation of knocking success to make your small self feel better. DiCaprio has done excellent work in a number of films, and he holds together CATCH ME IF YOU CAN, allowing you to believe in this character and the situations he gets himself into and out of. Oh, and he's beautiful to look at. Hanks' offers a workmanlike portrayal of a sad sack bank fraud FBI agent.

Where the story simply follows Frank, Jr.'s development, it works very well. It's hard not to marvel at his chutzpah in assuming identities and getting away with it, and smirk at the ironies that abound in a 17 year old portraying a 28-year old pilot, doctor, and lawyer. Where the scriptwriting gets cute, particularly in the film's framing device (the film begins with Frank, Jr.'s capture, and the film is told in flashback, with occasional leaps forward), it falls apart. Beginning with the ending was a bad choice, particularly because it means you're thrown into a rather bleak jail cell in France, a remarkable downer to start this film. It seems to me as if Spielberg didn't really 'get' the effect of this narrative structure on the audience--it's needlessly choppy.

6 comments so far. Add a comment.

Previous entry: "Irrigation Irritation."
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I saw it over christmas vacation and really enjoyed it. I loved the "campy" feeling and the music, it was just really fun.

If even half of the movie is true it's pretty darned amazing.

What I didn't like was Hanks' accent. I thought it unneccessary.
Posted by john @ 01/07/2003 07:38 PM PST [link to this comment]

Not sure whether it falls into his "freakish goon" period, but Walken's single scene in Pulp Fiction was one of the funniest I've ever watched. Might have to see "Catch me..." just to experience a "warm" Walken. Can't quite imagine it.
Posted by dave @ 01/07/2003 07:42 PM PST [link to this comment]

I find it interesting, Peter, that you appear to have enjoyed this more than either AI or Minority Report. These are the last three Spielberg films and to me they show a filmmaker at (or near) the peak of his powers. I loved AI and Minority Report --you did not. While I haven't seen the new film, all reports are that it's good but, as you put it, a trifle.

If you put these three films on a scale of ambition it seems pretty clear that "Catch Me If You Can" is the least ambitious. Yet it is also the most popular. "AI" is by far the most ambitious, and I suspect the least popular. "Minority Report" falls in the middle.

So what does this say about me that I liked "AI" the most, and what does it say about you that you preferred "Catch Me If You Can." I cannot help but wonder what this says about society too.
Posted by Karl Fast @ 01/11/2003 07:04 AM PST [link to this comment]

Of course CATCH ME IF YOU CAN is overlong and tiring to watch. It is also a weak attempt to make a cross-purposes buddy movie seem like a real relationship. Spielberg as a director is in reality just a fairly competent producer. Though CMIYC calls even that competency into question.

I don't have to wonder, Karl, what liking any Spielberg movie says about the liker or any society that does that liking (I assume that you had such a specific society in mind in your reference). What it says to me is that people who give Spielberg movies any cinematic credibility are much like the (non)gourmets who would debate which is best, the MacDonald's Big Mac, Egg McMuffin or Chicken McNuggets.
Posted by BJMe @ 01/13/2003 09:29 AM PST [link to this comment]

I loved the movie, highly recommended.

keith knutsson
Posted by KEITH KNUTSSON @ 02/06/2003 06:02 AM PST [link to this comment]

This movie reminded me so much of a former colleague of mine. I highly recommend it to anyone who is looking for an afternoon escape. After the movie, I met up with some friends at a coffee shop and discussed the movie.
Posted by Dawn @ 02/10/2003 12:22 AM PST [link to this comment]

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